Can Brown Bears Climb Trees? [Yes! Myth Dispelled]

Photo: Marmuz_photos / Shutterstock

North American brown bears are majestic animals, so much so that California even has a grizzly bear on its state flag. They can adapt to the harshest conditions the continent has to offer, and they’re an important part of their ecosystems.

One common thought about brown bears, though, is that they are unable to climb trees. It’s often said that you can climb a tree to escape a grizzly bear, but is this actually true?

Contrary to popular belief, brown bears can climb trees. They aren’t as skilled at climbing as black bears, but they can do it if necessary. Brown bear cubs in particular like to climb trees for protection and food. It is not a good idea to climb a tree to escape a brown bear.

Do Brown Bears Climb Trees?

A common myth about brown bears is that they can’t climb trees. So, according to this myth, if you ever encounter a brown bear in the wild, you should climb up the nearest tree.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea. The polar bear is the only species of bear that can’t climb trees.

While brown bears – grizzlies in particular – aren’t very adept at climbing due to their size, they are still capable of climbing trees.

Cubs can definitely climb trees, doing so for food or protection, so this escape method could be a two-pronged mistake on your part.

Not only are the cubs capable of climbing up after you, but they’ll likely have a parent close by that can pose a much bigger threat.

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Do All Brown Bears Climb?

Yes, all brown bears can climb trees. Many people believe brown bears can’t climb because bears spotted in trees are often mistakenly labeled as black bears.

However, it turns out that you can’t simply look at a bear’s color to determine if it’s part of the brown bear species. Brown bears can actually be any color between black and blonde.

The best way to know if you are looking at a brown bear is to look at its face and its shoulders.

The face of a brown bear is rounder than other bears and has a concave or dish-like appearance. Brown bears also have a distinctive hump to their shoulders.

Though it’s not advisable to get close enough to see them, brown bears also have very long claws. These can be up to six inches in length.

There are three types of brown bear species native to North America. These are the grizzly bear, the Kodiak bear, and the California Grizzly. Unfortunately, the California Grizzly went extinct in 1922.

Brown bears are difficult to classify because they are very adaptable to different environments.

Therefore, brown bears in different areas of the country may go by different names, even if they’re technically part of the same subspecies.

How To Escape A Brown Bear Encounter

So, what do you do if you encounter a brown bear in the wild? Running into any bear can be a scary situation, and grizzly bears are especially intimidating animals.

But bear attacks are very rare, and if you take precautions and respect the bear’s space, you shouldn’t run into any dangerous situations.

Follow these tips to avoid brown bears and to protect yourself if an encounter can’t be avoided.

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Avoid Attracting Brown Bears

One of the first things you should do to avoid attracting a bear is to properly store your food.

If you’re picnicking and know there are bears in the area, you should store your food from a tree in a food bag or use “bear canisters” (bear-resistant containers).

If you’re camping or staying in a cabin, you should keep your food inside when not in use and close the doors and windows.

If a bear hears a human, they will likely avoid them. However, if you do see a bear while hiking, always respect the bear’s space and keep your distance.

You should try to minimize the noise and movement you make until the bear is gone.

You can also stay safe by using known trails when possible and keep together in a group.

Let Them Know You’re Not Worth Their Time

If a bear comes across your path despite your best efforts, you can still diffuse the situation. You want the bear to know that you’re in the area and are not prey.

Using a calm voice, begin talking to the bear; the bear knows that humans aren’t good prey, and will recognize that you’re human by the sound of your voice.

If the bear can see you, you can also wave your arms over your head in a slow manner. This will make you look much larger and can intimidate the bear.

Like many animals, bears won’t go after prey that will cause them too much trouble; it’s not worth the effort.

Do Not Run Away

Never run away from a brown bear. Using slow and calm movements, begin walking backwards and sideways away from the bear.

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The sideways movement is less threatening to the bear than a straight line away. Moving backwards allows you to keep your eyes on the bear in case you need to change your strategy.

Last Resorts

In the worst-case scenario, play dead. Lay flat on your stomach on the ground while clasping your hands behind your neck.

If you spread your legs out, you’ll make it harder for the bear to turn you over. A bear will usually give up after a few seconds.

Do not fight back against a brown bear unless it continues to try to flip you or succeeds in doing so. Then, fight back as hard as you can and use anything nearby to hit the bear in the face.


Brown bears are large and potentially dangerous animals. Education on brown bears not only improves your mind, but it can also keep you safe.

The popular idea that grizzly or other brown bears can’t climb trees is a myth. They can in fact climb trees, and even like to do so as cubs. When they get older, it is true that brown bears don’t climb very often, but they still can if they feel the need.

Knowing that brown bears can climb trees could save your life if you ever encounter one in the wild. Do not climb a tree or run away in an attempt to escape; instead, use slow and calm movements and vocal noises to remove yourself from the situation.

Most brown bears – or any bear species – do not want to attack a human. Use good judgment to avoid attracting bears to you, and never rely on climbing a tree to escape, because a brown bear has the ability to climb up after you.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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