I understand that they are cumbersome at best. But, if you plan on any lengthy backpacking trips, there is a good chance you will have to use a bear canister. Many National Parks, National Forests, and thru-hikes require that you carry and use a bear canister.
Let’s take a look at where and when bear canisters are required.
Many National Parks, National Forests, and Thru-hikes require that you use bear canisters, or bear-resistant food containers (BRFC). Most notably, agencies require bear canisters in grizzly populated areas. Additionally, these agencies require the use of bear canisters when densely populated black bears are present, or where trees aren’t readily available.
Research how to prevent bears from smelling you from miles away before you venture out into our National Parks and Thru-Hikes in the first place.
The National Park Service and the United States Department of Agriculture – Forest Service hold jurisdiction on regulating the use of bear canisters.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) tests and approves bear canisters for use in the wild, backcountry, and campsites. They provide an approved bear container list to help you when you are shopping for a container.
The following is a list of 17 National Parks/ Forests and 17 thru-hikes and the bear canister regulations.
Read them in order or skip to your favorite park, forest, or thru-hike by clicking on their link below.
- Denali National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Desolation Wilderness Nat’l Forest
- White Mountain National Forest
- Green Mountain National Forest
- Big Bend National Park
- Isle Royale National Park
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park
- Appalachian Trail
- Pacific Crest Trail
- John Muir Trail
- Continental Divide Trail
- Colorado Trail
- Long Trail
- Trans Adirondack Trail
- Pacific Northwest Trail
- Arizona Trail
- Florida Trail
- North Country Trail
- Ice Age Trail
- Hayduke Trail
- Sierra High Route Trail
- Superior Hiking Trail
- Idaho Centennial Trail
- Ouachita National Recreation Trail
Do I need a bear canister in these National Parks?
1. Denali National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Denali National Park? Yes, Denali National Park ‘recommends’ using bear-resistant food containers (BRFCs) when camping in the park. Denali National Park freely issues BRFCs after purchasing your backpacking permit. Campers must return the containers within 48 hours after completing your backpacking trip.
My wife and I were issued a BRFC when we backpacked Denali. It was awkward, and I had difficulty fitting it into my backpack. I suggest that you purchase a canister ahead of time, practice with it, and make adjustments before your trip.
The National Park Service website provides a list of approved BRFCs for Denali. Here is the link.
2. Yellowstone National Park Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Yellowstone National Park? No, Yellowstone National Park does not require bear canisters within the park. They note that appropriately hanging food is acceptable within Yellowstone.
Although, according to the NPS, “certain portable bear-resistant food containers (BRFCs) may be used for food storage instead of hanging [them]. Campers can hang or leave BRFCs on the ground underneath the food pole or in the cooking area. Make sure all food and odorous items fit into a container before starting your trip.”
If considering carrying a bear canister, before purchasing, review the approved BRFCs listed here from IGBC.
3. Yosemite National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Yosemite National Park? Yes. Yellowstone National Park requires that you have a bear canister. Here is the policy from the Yosemite official website.
“Bear-resistant food containers (“bear canisters”) are required in Yellowstone National Park for overnight hikers throughout the Wilderness (counterbalance food hangs are no longer legal). In Yosemite and the southern Sierra, bear canisters are the only effective and proven method of preventing bears from getting human food.”
4. Zion National Park Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Zion National Park? No. You do not need to carry a bear canister in Zion National Park. Zion is home to many mammal species. Bears are rare and only habitat the high country. The number one mammal in Zion is the mountain lion.
The only reference to food is this statement on the Zion website: “Store food and trash responsibly.”
Care still needs to be taken to protect the animals in the park. Follow the ‘pack-in, pack-out’ and ‘leave-no-trace’ rules, including human waste as per the policies.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Rocky Mountain National Park? Yes, Rocky Mountain National Park requires bear canisters. Black bears make their home within the park, and the Park requires bear canisters when staying at backcountry campsites.
According to the NPS website, “all food, cooking equipment, garbage, and other scented items must be stored in a carry-in/ carry-out bear-resistant food storage canister. This requirement is from April 1 to October 31 at all backcountry sites below treeline.”
6. Bryce Canyon National Park Highly Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Bryce Canyon National Park? No, however, Bryce Canyon National Park is home to many mammals, including the black bear, and the Park ‘highly recommends’ using a bear-resistant food canister during your time inside the park.
Besides, the Visitor center makes BRFCs available for loan, free of charge to any camper, backpacker, or hiker.
7. Grand Canyon National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Grand Canyon National Park? Yes, Grand Canyon National Park requires the use of bear canisters. when in the backcountry, the Park mandates that you use their large metal boxes. But note that bear canisters work well to keep animals from eating your food. However, the Park provides large metal boxes at each campsite. Here is what the NPS says:
The Park provides “large metal boxes at every campsite at Indian Garden, Bright Angel, and Cottonwood campgrounds. Their use is mandatory when available. Metal cookie tins, bear canisters, and cooking pots with lockable lids work well.”
8. Olympic National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Olympic National Park? Yes, bear canisters are required in Olympic National Park primarily on the coast (due to raccoon problem), as well as in the Royal Basin, Sol Duc/ 7 Lakes Basin, 5 Mile Island, and Enchanted Valley.
The NPS also notes that “all food, garbage, and scented toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, chapstick, etc. be stored either in bear canisters, or bear wires when provided, and 12 feet high and 10 feet out from the nearest tree trunk.”
The website also notes that the Park “has a limited supply of bear canisters at the Port Angeles WIC and South Shore Lake Quinault USFS Office.
9. Glacier National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Glacier National Park? Yes, Glacier National Park requires bear canisters within the park. Glacier is home to one of the largest remaining grizzly populations in the lower 48 states. Glacier NP is also home to the more docile black bear, while not as aggressive, still requires safety precautions.
The Glacier food regulations state that “all food must be kept…suspended from any NPS designated food hanging device, or secured in any NPS designated storage locker, secured in an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) approved bear-resistant container…at all times.”
10. Grand Teton National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Grand Teton National Park? Yes, both grizzly and black bear roam freely in Grand Teton National Park. Because of the prevalence of bears, the Park requires bear canisters.
The requirements from the NPS state that “regardless of elevation backpackers will be required to use approved bear-resistant canisters except where food storage boxes are provided…All food, garbage, toiletries, and any odorous item that may attract a bear must be stored in an IGBC approved bear-resistant food canister when not in immediate use, day and night.”
As with most National Parks, “bear canisters are available for use in the park for free at backcountry permitting locations.”
11. Mount Rainier National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Mount Rainier National Park? Yes, because black bears roam the Park, Mount Rainier National Park requires the use of bear canisters. They scavenge, and like human-food, so bear canisters are required.
The NPS states that it is “important to secure any food you bring with you when camping or backpacking. Keep food in secure containers and store them in food lockers, or use bear poles to hang the food out of reach.”
12. Desolation Wilderness National Forest Highly Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Desolation Wilderness National Forest? Yes, with recent bears gaining access to hanging food containers, the Tahoe Forest Service highly recommends that backpackers use approved bear-resistant food containers in Desolation Wilderness National Forest.
Hikers should purchase an International Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) approved container.
13. White Mountain National Forest Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in White Mountain National Forest? Yes, according to the US Department of Agriculture – when in White Mountain National Forest, it is recommended that you use an approved bear-resistant food container when backpacking and camping in the backcountry.
14. Green Mountain National Forest Recommends Bear Boxes and Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Green Mountain National Forest? Yes, according to Order R9-20-19, when backpacking in the Green Mountain National Forest, all food must be secured to prevent bears from gaining access to food.
The order states that “except while being consumed, all food, food containers, and refuse shall be stored in a closed motor vehicle. Or suspended at least twelve (12) feet above the ground, and not less than six (6) feet horizontally from any object. Bear boxes and bear canisters, designed specifically for food and/or refuse storage, are acceptable.”
15. Big Bend National Park Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Big Bend National Park? Yes, Big Bend is home to 30 to 40 black bears who roam around backpacking campsites. The NPS requires that backpackers in Big Bend National Park keep food in “bear-resistant storage containers that have been certified, and approved by the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG), or the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).”
The Park provides bear-resistant storage lockers at all “Chisos backpacking sites and primitive roadside sites.”
16. Isle Royale National Park Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Isle Royale National Park? No, the Isle Royale National Park does not require bear canisters because there are no bears on the island. While the Park is well-suited for bear life, the 14-mile icy water crossing prevents their inhabiting the island.
17. Great Smoky Mountain National Park Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister in Great Smoky Mountain National Park? No, while black bears roam the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you are not required to carry a bear canister.
However, the Park has set up several bear trash cans, bear poles, and bear cable systems. These systems help you safely store your food out of a bear’s reach.
Do I need a bear canister on these thru-hikes?
1. The Appalachian Trail Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Appalachian Trail (AT)? Yes, while 40% of the trail’s campsites have bear cables, boxes, and poles, not all sites are safe from bear scavaging. Therefore, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends using a bear canister.
Using a bear hang is the most popular, yet highly unreliable way to store your food on the AT. Additionally, many campsites lack the appropriate trees. And that is why the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends the use of bear canisters throughout the length of the trail.
The Conservancy also points out that while hikers move along the trail, the animals remain in the area. Once an animal finds food, it will most likely return frequently to that site. A pattern emerges, and the area becomes unsafe for hikers.
2. The Pacific Crest Trail Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)? Yes, there are over 35,000 bears in California alone. While the Pacific Crest Trail Association recommends certain areas, they also note that bear canister use is appropriate throughout the length of the trail.
They remind us that we protect bears by keeping our food from them, reciting the adage that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
The Pacific Crest Trail Association states that thru-hikers should carry a bear canister “between Kennedy Meadows (mile 702) in the south and Sonora Pass (mile 1017) in the north and then again in Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1343-1363). We also strongly recommend carrying a bear canister in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.”
3. John Muir Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the John Muir Trail (JMT)? Yes, the John Muir Trail covers 210.4 miles and overlaps the Pacific Crest Trail for 160 of those miles. Therefore, as part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail follows the same guidelines, and bear canisters are required. See PCT.
4. Continental Divide Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)? Yes, because several sections of the Continental Divide Trail meander through grizzly country, backpackers are required to use a bear canister. Additionally, black bears travel throughout the majority of the trail.
The Continental Divide Trail travels through 3 National Parks (Glacier, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain) and many special lands. It is best to abide by the recommendations in each situation.
5. Colorado Trail Requires Bear Canisters In Corridor Pass-Throughs
Do I need a bear canister on the Colorado Trail? Yes, and No, per the Colorado Trail Foundation, you are not required to carry and use a bear canister for the majority of the Colorado Trail.
However, in certain areas called “corridor pass-throughs,” more strict rules apply. For example, in the San Isabel and Pike National Forests, hikers must “store food in hard canisters or hang 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk of the tree.”
While the lightest option (in regards to pack weight) is hanging your food, several hikers choose an Ursack with an odor-proof Opsak liner.
However, you choose it is your responsibility to protect your food and thereby protect bears.
6. The Long Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Long Trail? Yes, according to the Green Mountain Club, hikers are “required to use a bear box, bear can, or hang all food, refuse, etc. 12′ from the ground and 6′ from the tree and branch, and carry out all trash, on Green Mountain National Forest Land.”
While the Long Trail allows bear hangs, they discourage this usage. They recommend using an approved bear canister when hiking in Vermont’s Green Mountains, and subsequently, the Long Trail.
7. The Trans Adirondack Route Requires Bear Canisters in One Area
Do I need a bear canister on the Trans Adirondack Route? Yes, in one section of the Trans Adirondack Route bear canisters are required. According to thetrek.co, “The unique regulation is that bear-resistant food canisters must be used if camping in the Eastern Zone of High Peaks Wilderness Area. This section of the route is approximately ten miles long. To avoid carrying a canister, simply pass through this zone in one day.”
Other than that, not much is written about the bear precautions on this thru-hike. When hiking in bear country, be cautious. Use your best judgment to stay safe and protect bears.
8. The Pacific Northwest Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Pacific Northwest Trail? Yes, according to the USDA Forest Service, the Pacific Northwest Trail meanders through Glacier National Park, which requires bear canisters due to the dense grizzly population. Also, the trail passes through remote areas in the Cascades, shares time with the Pacific Crest Trail, and goes through Olympic National Park (with its raccoon population.)
For these reasons, it is advisable to carry a bear can.
9. The Arizona Trail Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Arizona Trail? No, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department brochure, it is recommended to store food in a bear container while on the Arizona Trail. However, I was unable to find any requirements when hiking in Arizona.
So, using common sense and sound judgment when heading into black bear territory, carrying a bear canister, or Ursack protects your food from bears. Because Arizona has few trees, using a bear canister protects your food from bears.
10. The Florida Trail Highly Recommends Bear Bagging In Bear Country
Do I need a bear canister on the Florida Trail? No, however, in a couple of places on the Florida Trail, bear bagging and hanging are recommended and required. According to the Florida Trail Association, they suggest you consider “bear bagging” your food in bear country, a highly recommended tactic in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.”
Also, “in Big Cypress and the three National Forests bear bag hanging is required and in other locations, it is certainly a good precaution.”
11. The North Country Trail Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the North Country Trail? No, the North Country Trail Association does not mention bear safety throughout its website. However, the trail crosses 8 states, all of which have black bear populations. For this reason, we recommend following bear safety precautions when backpacking on the North Country Trail.
The trail association asked that hikers contact the local municipality for any rules and requirements when crossing through that area.
12. The Ice Age Trail Recommends Hanging Food Properly
Do I need a bear canister on the Ice Age Trail? No, according to the Ice Age Trail Alliance, they recommend “hang your food properly when in bear country” while on the Ice Age Trail.
The Ice Age Trail is home to black bear, so plan accordingly.
13. The Hayduke Trail Recommends Use of Bear Canisters in Certain Parts
Do I need a bear canister on the Hayduke Trail? Yes, in parts. The Hayduke Trail wanders through 8 National Parks, including Bryce and Zion. Both of these National Parks do not require bear canisters. However, Bryce does state that using a container is recommended when inside the park.
Because the trail traverses many areas where trees are not available, we suggest that you carry a bear canister. Or at least use an Ursack with a smell-proof liner.
14. The Sierra High Route Trail Does Not Require Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Sierra High Route Trail? No, it is not required to carry a bear canister on the High Sierra Route Trail. However, because bears live in the area, you should take caution.
It is wise if not using a bear canister to use an Ursack with a smell-proof lining.
15. The Superior Hiking Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Superior Hiking Trail? Yes, the Superior Hiking Trail official website requires that you carry and use a bear canister.
They state that during camping situations, the camper is to “make sure you secure your food. This means carrying a bear canister or diligently bear-bagging your food. Bears that become used to messy campsites may lead to campsite closings, and dire consequences for bears.”
16. The Idaho Centennial Trail Requires Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Idaho Centennial Trail? Yes, the Idaho Centennial Trail is home to many grizzly and black bear populations and therefore requires bear canister usage.
While not a requirement the Idaho Trail Association says the following:
“Ideally, all food, beverages, pet food, garbage, and personal hygiene products should be stored inside an approved bear-resistant storage container. If you do not have an approved bear-resistant storage container, you can hang these products from a tree or snag. They should be suspended at least 10 feet high and 4 feet from any vertical support. Storage locations should be sited at least 100 yards from campsites, recreation sites, and trails.”
17. Ouachita National Recreation Trail Recommends Bear Canisters
Do I need a bear canister on the Ouachita National Recreation Trail? Yes, per the Ouachita National Forest, bear canisters are ideal when backpacking on the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The recommendation is as follows:
“Backcountry and wilderness users are required to store food or refuse in a manner designed to keep bears from gaining access. Visitors are encouraged to use bear-resistant food canisters to safeguard food. If a bear canister is not available, the counter-balance method of storing food is also an acceptable method.”
Final Words and Summary
My Observations About Bear Canister Requirements
After reviewing so many websites to compile this information I have made some observations.
First, when backpacking in grizzly bear territory, the regulatory agencies (National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, etc.) require the use of bear-resistant food containers.
Second, when in remote areas without the appropriate trees for hanging food, the parks recommend bear canisters.
Third, agencies allow leeway when choosing how to store your food. For the most part, agencies recommend, suggest, or advise using bear canisters. However, occasionally they require them. If they do require you to use bear canisters, then it is for a good reason.
Finally, I would like to repeat this. Bear canisters are for the bears’ protection. When bears eat from your food, they become accustomed to it. Who wouldn’t choose a Snickers bar over pinecones? They return to the food, and in doing so, endanger humans. As a last resort, we protect humans. Which means we remove the bear from the population. A sad end to a preventable situation!