Apr 30

How to Identify Grizzly and Black Bears

In Yellowstone, we are fortunate to be home to two species of bears: grizzly bears and black bears. Grizzlies are found in only a few isolated regions in the lower 48 states—the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and northwest Montana—while black bears have a wide range across the entirety of the United States. There are currently somewhere around 700 grizzlies in the GYE. Though an exact number is unknown, black bears are considered common in Yellowstone.

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For most visitors, there is nothing quite like the excitement of seeing a bear in the wild. Many come to Yellowstone solely to see the park’s remarkable wildlife, and bears are often at the top of the list. While grizzly bears are typically much larger than black bears, they can at times be difficult to tell apart.

Whether we are talking about the distinct visual characteristics of the bears, or simply how to distinguish one track from another, we’ve put together some tips and stats to help identify both.

Courtesy of NPS


Grizzly Bear

NPS / Neal Herbert

Scientific Name: Ursus arctos

Color: Varies from black to blonde; frequently with white-tipped fur giving a grizzled, “silver-tipped” appearance. In the Yellowstone ecosystem, many grizzly bears have a light brown girth band.

Height: About 3-1/2 ft (1.0 m) at the shoulder.

Weight: Male: 216-717 lbs (98-325 kg); Female: 200-428 lbs (91-194 kg)

May live 15-30 years.

Quick identifier: Rump lower than shoulders.


Black Bear

NPS / Neal Herbert

Scientific Name: Ursus americanus

Color: Varies from pure black to brown, cinnamon, or blonde; in the Rocky Mountains, approximately 50% are black with a light brown muzzle

Height: About 3 ft (0.9 m) at the shoulder

Weight: Male: 210-315 lbs (95-143 kg); Female: 135-160 lbs (61-73 kg)

May live 15-30 years.

Quick identifier: Hump usually absent, rump higher than shoulders.


Bear Safety

  • Give bears space. Keep at least 100 yards (93 meters) from bears at all times and never approach a bear to take a photo.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Hike in groups and make noise. While hiking on a trail, periodically yell “Hey bear!” to alert bears of your presence.
  • Do not travel in areas closed for bear management.
  • Never feed bears.
  • Stay with your stuff. Do not leave packs or bags containing food unattended, even for a few minutes, as bears learn new food sources quickly.
  • If a bear approaches or touches your car, honk your horn and drive away. We want to discourage this behavior for the bears’ safety and yours.


Sources and resources