Can Grizzly Bears Climb Trees? [Answer & Facts]

Photo: Steve Boer / Shutterstock

Grizzly bears are some of the most lethal creatures found in the wild. They have incredibly strong jaws and paws, so encountering one on your hikes could end in disaster. 

Many people believe that climbing a tree can help them escape this predator. But is this true, or can grizzly bears climb right behind you?

Grizzly bears can climb trees, albeit it’s unusual for them to do so. These bears have stockier bodies compared to black bears and don’t necessarily excel at climbing. However, they can follow prey up a tree if they want to. Grizzly bear cubs are spotted in trees more often than their parents, either playing or escaping predators.

Do Grizzly Bears Climb Trees? 

Adult grizzly bears don’t generally climb trees. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t. 

Grizzly bears are a species of brown bears (Ursus arctos), and like all brown bears, they can climb trees. The reason adult grizzlies prefer not to climb is their size. 

These bears grow to impressive dimensions. A grizzly bear weighs around 700 pounds on average. Some of the largest males can reach weights of 1,700 pounds. Females are smaller and lighter, but they can still weigh up to 800 pounds. 

Such a heavy load makes it difficult to escalate a vertical surface like a tree. Moreover, grizzly bears’ claws also grow in size but get duller as they age, so gripping can become challenging.

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Cubs are lighter and more agile climbers. Because bear cubs can fall prey to wolves, coyotes, and cougars, they climb not only for food but also to escape some of these predators.

Do All Grizzly Bears Climb Trees?

While all grizzly bears can climb trees at one point in their lives, some adults may lose this ability.

However, even if it’s generally believed that adult grizzly bears don’t climb trees, it still doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to climb a tree in the case of an encounter.

In fact, even though grizzlies are not as adept climbers as black bears, they’ve been known to go after people who tried to escape vertically.

How Fast Can Grizzly Bears Climb a Tree? 

Because adult grizzly bears don’t usually climb, there aren’t specific studies on how fast they can escalate vertical surfaces. However, they can likely climb much faster than humans. 

To put things into perspective, we know that black bears can sprint up to 35 miles per hour and climb 100 feet in about 30 seconds.

Grizzly bears can reach the same running speed, but they are larger and heavier than black bears. 

While they might not be able to pull off the 100 feet in 30 seconds performance, they will most likely reach that height within a couple of minutes. 

Meanwhile, the fastest male climber in the world can climb 50 feet in about 5.10 seconds, but on artificially constructed climbing walls and with all necessary equipment.

Trees rarely offer the same level of support as a climbing wall, and you’d have to be a trained climber anyway to reach that speed.

It’s safe to say that the average Joe would be lucky to make it to a higher branch before the grizzly catches up.

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Can Bears Climb Trees Faster Then They Run? 

Bears can’t climb faster than they run, but they are still faster than humans.

This makes it unsafe to run or attempt to climb trees if you encounter a grizzly bear.

Why Do Grizzlies Climb Trees? 

As explained, adult grizzly bears are rarely spotted in trees. While cubs climb trees more often, they don’t normally do so for foraging. 

In fact, grizzly bears mostly consume ants, clover, dandelion, and succulent grasses. Mushrooms and berries are also important components of the diet. Protein sources include salmon, bull elk, and other ungulates. These bears are also scavengers. 

Sometimes, they can eat whitebark pine seeds found in red squirrel caches; grizzly bears find these seeds in tree burrows, but this is about it. They don’t normally climb to eat fruits or leaves.

The main reasons cubs go up a tree is to escape predators or to play. Young grizzly adults also climb trees to catch prey, including humans.

How to Survive a Grizzly Bear?

When the survival instinct kicks in, our first impulse is to run from danger. However, this isn’t wise when encountering a grizzly bear – or any other bear, really. Here’s how to survive them. 

Avoid Bear Sites 

The easiest way to survive a grizzly bear is to avoid it altogether. When hiking in areas where you might encounter one, such as the Yellowstone National Park, keep your eyes on track signs.

Bear signs tell you there’s a bear activity in the area, so you can plan detours as needed.

You should especially avoid bear sites in late winter and spring when cubs are born. Grizzlies are fiercely protective of their young and are more likely to attack. 

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Stay Away from Carcasses 

Cubs aside, grizzly bears also protect their food. Ungulate carcasses near bear sites could have been killed by a grizzly.

Even if a bear didn’t kill the animal, they could be attracted by carcasses – bears are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on carcasses and carrion. 

Announce Your Presence

While grizzly bears are some of the most dangerous creatures, the truth is that very few encounters result in people being injured. 

Like most wild animals, grizzlies only attack if they feel threatened or if they’re starved. 

If you announce your presence with noises, the bears will likely retreat before you even have a chance of spotting them. 

Keep Calm 

If you do come face to face with a grizzly bear, do your best to keep calm. Back away slowly without turning your back to the bear. However, you should avoid yelling or throwing things. 

You can use pepper spray if the bear is close enough for it to be effective. Aim for the eyes to deter them.

However, you should never run or climb a tree frenetically. This will only make the bear see you as prey and pursue you. 

To End

Grizzly bears can climb trees, even if they usually don’t. Cubs are more likely to climb, either to escape predators or to play. Young adults may climb trees to pursue prey, but it’s unlikely to spot an older adult up a branch. 

While grizzly bears aren’t as agile climbers as black bears, they still climb faster than most humans. Thus, climbing a tree won’t save you from an angry grizzly if you ever encounter one.

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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