Utah is known for its vast canyons and unique geological formations. There are plenty of outdoor recreation activities to do across the state.
Other attractions, including museums, art galleries, and eateries can be found in the noteworthy Salt Lake City area.
There are seven national forests and five national parks that are scattered around the state. Millions of acres are protected to help ecosystems stay healthy and support wildlife.
Common outdoor activities enjoyed in Utah include kayaking on the Great Salt Lake, horseback riding, hiking to scenic overlooks, exploring canyons, camping, and mountain biking. Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and typically attracts more than four million people each year.
Various types of wildlife, such as coyotes, the desert tortoise, and bighorn sheep call Utah their home.
But are there bears in Utah? How common are bear attacks in Utah?
Black bears are quite commonn in parts of Utah, including subspecies that may be rusty brown or tan in color. There are no brown bears or grizzly bears in Utah, though, even though black bears are sometimes misidentified! As far as encounters and bear attacks in Utah, they’re extremely rare. Utah has only experienced one confirmed fatal bear attack and, in general, black bears are extremely cautious and shy around humans.
Let’s learn more about the types of bears in Utah, bear season, bear attacks, and more!
Types of Bears Found in Utah
Bears can be found in certain parts of Utah, mainly in canyons and forested areas. Travelers and residents might see bears if they’re in the eastern half of the state.
The American black bear is the only bear species currently living in the state of Utah. Two subspecies of the American black bear reside in Utah, which include the New Mexico black bear and the cinnamon bear.
American black bears are the most widely distributed bear species in North America. They’ve adapted to increased human activity across the states, but some of their range in certain states has been lost.
Take a closer look at American black bears in Utah and how likely you are to see one while you’re there!
American Black Bear
The American black bear can be found in more than 40 states across the US. They mainly inhabit forested areas, but can be common backyard visitors when food or garbage is left outside.
Approximately 900,000 black bears are in North America. Some states, such as Utah, have larger populations consisting of several thousand bears.
These creatures are solitary, but curious, and tend to stay away from humans. Some extreme weather events, such as drought, that Utah experiences have the ability to affect the behavior of black bears.
Appearance and Size
The appearance of black bears can differ between states, and even parts of Utah.
Cinnamon bears found in Utah have a rusty brown fur coat, while New Mexico black bears are usually black with a tan or brown snout.
Light brown to dark brown black bears also exist. These bears are easily mistaken for grizzlies, but grizzly bears have a prominent shoulder hump and are usually much larger than black bears.
Grizzly populations no longer exist in Utah. Records indicate that one of the last known grizzly bears to live in Utah, named Old Ephraim, was in the 1920s.
Black bears are fairly small bears compared to grizzlies or kodiak bears, which are mainly found in northwestern states, Canada, and Alaska.
Male black bears can weigh up to 600 pounds, but males and females weigh between 125 and 500 pounds on average.
They have tall pointed ears, short and curved front claws, and their tracks are round in shape. Some black bears have a white fur patch on their chest, but this is uncommon for black bears in Utah.
Utah Black Bear Distribution and Population
The black bear population in Utah has grown in the last decade and it’s estimated to be about 4,000 bears.
The New Mexico black bear can be found in southeastern Utah and other southwestern states. The cinnamon bear is found in the far northeastern corner of Utah.
Black bears are scattered throughout the forested areas of the state, which are somewhat broken up by deserts and steppes. The majority of the Utah black bear population lives at elevations of 7,000 ft or higher.
Interstate 15 acts as a divider for the state, where most Utah bear populations exist all along the eastern half of I-15 and little bear activity is seen west of the interstate. It travels from the northern border of Utah, which connects to Idaho, and meanders down through central Utah and exits the state in the southwestern corner.
An abundance of forests line the eastern half of the interstate, with a few others scattered in the far east near the Colorado border. Since black bears inhabit forested areas, they usually aren’t found in Utah’s deserts and steppes, which make up almost half of its land.
Diet and Food Habits
Black bears in Utah mainly eat grasses, shrubs, flowering plants, fruit, nuts, and berries. They also eat small mammals, but only 10% of their diet consists of meat. They get most of their protein from insects, specifically ants and larvae.
Utah struggles with occasional droughts during the summer, which can impact what kind of diet black bears in Utah have. Vegetation and berries that bears rely heavily on for food in the summer months can shrivel up during a drought.
This can cause bears to travel outside of their home range in search of food, which includes venturing into backyards and campsites.
Black bears will frequent campsites where garbage and human food isn’t disposed of properly. They also visit backyards when natural food sources are scarce. They’re attracted to things like bird feeders, pet food, and fruit trees.
During summer and fall seasons, bears are constantly in search of food to build up their fat reserves in preparation for entering their dens.
Bear Hunting and Hibernation Season in Utah
Female black bears begin to enter their dens in late October, while males go into dens a little later in mid-November. Black bears enter a dormant state during the winter, but don’t go into a full hibernation like some other den-dwelling animals.
Their metabolism slows down and their body uses their fat reserves to produce calories. This is why it’s important that they eat as much food as they can before entering their den.
Females who eat enough food leading up to winter give birth to a litter of cubs around January. Although they breed in the summer, females are able to delay implantation until winter.
Black bears begin to emerge from their dens once temperatures start to rise in early spring and they start searching for food.
Bear cubs born in the dens stay with their mother for at least one year before going off on their own.
Utah has three black bear hunting seasons, which consist of spring, summer, and fall. Dates for bear hunting season can differ each year depending on wildlife management plans for the state.
Spring bear hunting season usually begins in April and ends in late May. The summer hunting season lasts from May to late June. The fall season typically begins in August and ends in late September, with a second session in November.
Bear Encounters & Attacks in Utah
Depending on your feelings about bears, encountering a black bear can either be an exciting or fearful experience.
However, black bears aren’t aggressive creatures. They typically travel alone, except for females with cubs, and like to keep their distance from humans.
Although extremely rare, Utah had its first fatal black bear attack in 2015. Fox News reported that an 11-year-old boy was dragged out of his tent by a black bear weighing as much as 300 pounds.
The boy and his family were camping in the American Fork Canyon area when the fatal incident occurred. The bear responsible for the attack was tracked down and shot by authorities.
One of the most common reasons that people in Utah encounter black bears is that they’re searching for food. A black bear’s wonderful sense of smell allows them to sniff out food more than a mile away!
Black bears in Utah might be seen more when they come out of hibernation in March and April. Warm early spring weather might cause them to come out a little earlier.
Encounters are less likely between October and March because they are in their dens. Males expand their home range in search of a mate during the breeding season in June and July, which also increases chances of sightings.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources received over 25 reports of black bears getting into garbage at campsites and residential properties in just one month in July 2019. This increased case of black bears entering populated areas was likely a result of a dry summer of the previous year and a colder spring, so bears woke up more hungry than usual.
In May 2022, a black bear wandered onto a middle school campus in Utah, located about 45 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. The bear was captured by animal control to be relocated.
If you do encounter a black bear, don’t panic! Remain calm, back away slowly, and try to appear as large as possible by extending limbs or items of clothing.
Although black bear attacks in Utah have occurred, they’re very rare.
Black bears aren’t considered aggressive and their intentions are usually motivated by food. Whether you’re already exploring Utah or planning your visit, you’ll want to be bear aware.
Black bears in Utah are mainly found on the eastern side of Interstate 15. The western half has desert and steppe ecosystems, which aren’t ideal habitats for black bears.
Forested areas are located along the eastern side of I-15 and scattered throughout the remainder of eastern Utah. Many black bears live within the national forests and parks and wilderness areas.
The likelihood of encountering a black bear in eastern Utah can change depending on the season. It’s unlikely to see a black bear in the winter months because they’re usually in their dens.
As bears emerge from their dens in early spring, sightings become more common. When droughts occur in the summer months of Utah, this could cause a spike in black bear sightings due to lack of food availability.
If you’re lucky enough to see a black bear from a safe distance, enjoy! They’re beautiful and usually gentle creatures.
For more guides, check out:
Hope this helps!