Camping With Black Bears in Summit County

Camping in Summit County is wonderful… getting away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life to relax in the peace and tranquility of nature. However, camping here comes with some responsibilities that we might forget to think about when planning our relaxing weekend in the woods. Please remember when camping in Summit County, we share our lodging accommodations with local wildlife, some of whom might be especially interested in your campsite… Ahem – the BLACK BEAR! An unexpected black bear encounter could quickly turn a tranquil camping situation to hostile.

Black bears, (or any bear) are very attracted to food, trash, and human smells. Here in the Dillon Ranger District black bears are common, but we do not have grizzlies. While black bears may not be as feared as the grizzly, we all need to take extreme caution when camping in black bear country. It is of utmost importance to not allow bears to become comfortable around humans. Every year, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) is forced to eliminate a number of bears, due to dangerous human-bear interactions. This is almost always caused by bears who have become accustomed to and unafraid of humans. No one wants to be the reason a black bear is put down.

Keep Food & Attractants in a Bear-Proof Container!

We can’t make this any more clear: USE A BEAR-PROOF CONTAINER!


Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, you need to set up a bear-proof camp to avoid attracting bears and to protect your food supply. Once a bear finds a feast at a campsite it will undoubtedly be back for more. It can then lose its fear of humans since it keeps getting food from them, making a dangerous situation much more likely.

Bear-proof canisters are the best way to store your food and all your “smellies” (i.e. food, beverages, stoves, utensils/cookware, toiletries, toothpaste, sunscreen, and bug spray).  Typically bear-proof canisters use a mechanism that you need opposable thumbs to open, since bears are lacking that evolutionary feature. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are proven to resist even the conniving trickery of a hungry black bear.

All across the country, more and more National Forest ranger districts are requiring campers to have bear canisters, and the Dillon Ranger District is no exception. You are REQUIRED to store all food and food supplies in a bear-proof container when camping on the Dillon Ranger District. (That means anywhere in Summit County!) Some campgrounds in the area are equipped with bear-proof boxes at every site, but there are several instances where you will need to provide your own.

If You’re Car Camping:

Easy! Your car can be used as a bear-proof container, *ONLY IF* it is locked. Yes, black bears can get into an unlocked vehicle, and yes, they will destroy said vehicle when they get in. Need proof? Check this story out. Moral of the story: YOUR CAR IS NOT BEAR-PROOF UNLESS LOCKED! Keep all food, stoves, cooking utensils, etc. locked away in your bear-proof container at all times, unless you’re using them. Do not keep any “smellies” out in the open when they are not in use! That midnight snack you’re saving in the tent for when you get hungry? Yogi can smell it and would also like the midnight snack, so maybe save it for the morning in your locked car.

If You’re Backpacking:

You need to bring a portable, bear-proof canister to store your food and food supplies. There are lots of options. Call your local outdoor store to see if they sell what you’re looking for, or you could check out REI’s options. If you’re a regular backpacker, this will be an incredible investment that might even save a bear’s life!

Just visiting the area for a camping trip, and not looking to spend a bunch of money on a bear canister you’ll only use once or twice? WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED!

FDRD has a Bear Canister Rental Program!

We offer bear canisters for rental, out of the Dillon Ranger District Station in Silverthorne (680 Blue River Parkway). They cost $5 per day and can be reserved by calling the Dillon Ranger Station at 970-468-5400. You must pick up and drop off the canister at the ranger station. All bear canister rental fees will support local trail maintenance and forest restoration. Not only do you get to maybe save a bear’s life, but you can also help keep our National Forest sustainable for years to come! If that’s not a WIN-WIN, we don’t know what is.

Check out CPW’s Colorado Bear Info

CPW’s website is an incredible resource for all wildlife information in Colorado. Check out their handy guide to Camping & Hiking in Bear Country for more helpful tips on how to avoid a black bear confrontation and what to do if you see a bear.

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Thank you for doing your part to keep your food out of bear’s mouths!