Denali: How serious is the threat of bear attack?
I'd like to plan a trip to Alaska to bikepack the Denali Park Road out and back. My wife is putting up a significant fight over her concerns that I'll be mauled. And I mean a significant fight!
How real is the threat of being mauled - especially along the park road and in the park road campgrounds?
She's freaked out because...
She's seen pictures like this:
Taken from this thread about riding in Denali.
(Credit to Elfbrk50 for the photo)
The threat is there, but easily navigable. Carry pepper spray, make noise when visibility is low, be smart about where you cook food in relation to your tent at night, don't put your tent in the bushes, don't follow a bear taking pictures of them like you are in a bus when you aren't.
I took that shot, and we first saw the cubs playing on the road. This was taken at 11 at night. We stopped and watched from about 40 yards away looking for mom. She popped up on the side of the road and they started walking toward us. We backtracked a bit and took our bikes up the hill on the right there (Stony Hill it turns out), and by the time we had them in sight again they were off the road and heading into the fields to the left of the picture. She saw us, cubs saw us, no problem.
There was a bear about 5 miles further down the road we passed going about 20mph down a hill. The hill rose abruptly to the left and he was about 10 feet over our heads. I passed, by the time my buddy passed he was up on his hind legs watching. There was a 3rd buddy and we dropped our bikes and headed back on foot with pepper spray drawn. I watched the bear just eyeball 3rd buddy and then run back up the hill.
Almost always, bears maul people that have made a poor choice while back there. There are a lot of people that camp back there that aren't mauled every year. Years go by without bear maulings happening. Tell her to come with you so she can protect you.
"Having lack of self-preservation makes biking more fun."
As with nearly anywhere in AK, there is a threat of bear mauling. However, if you take the proper precautions, have your bear mace handy, and don't poke the bears you are probably pretty safe. I've camped around Tecklanica river in tents with my family and not had any issues or scares even though when we pulled in to our camp spot there were two bears haunting the river banks not a hundred yards from our camp site.
There has been only one fatal bear attack recorded in the park's 100 year history and in that attack it appears that the bear was provoked/the attackee was far too close.
From the NPS website:
Incidents between people and bears in Denali are few. In the 23 cases of bear-induced human injury, only two cases involved sleeping campers. Both parties were camped without a tent, and one was camped near a dead moose as well. Bears are curious animals and will probe novel items in their environment with mouth and paws. While such investigation could potentially injure a human, it is not considered an attack and the bear will usually run at the first sign of human activity. Using a tent while camping gives a curious bear something other than an exposed, sleeping human to investigate.
When you view that number - 23 attacks (based on when written) versus the thousands of people who visit the park each year, the odds are pretty slim. Again, be educated, be aware, take all the precautions you can, and you should be fine. You're probably more likely to get injured getting to the park than you are in the park by a bear. Go for it.
Denali Park Stats:
350,000-400,000 visitors per year, only one death ever.
Be aware of the threat the same way you are of a car wreck, put on your seatbelt but don't let it keep you from going out.
Bikers and runners on narrow single track trails have a higher chance of getting attacked just because they can surprise a bear so easily coming fast around a blind corner. On the Denali Road you have lots of visibility, so the chance of surprising a bear is a lot lower. When I go through brushy trails I put a bear bell on my handlebars and I love the Relevate Designs Fuel Tank for holding bear spray on my bike.
If she is overly concerned about attacks while you are camped, Eagle Safety makes a 2 lb bear fence for backpacking.
The risk is so low, it always amazes me how people who don't go into the outdoors get all these risks and fears stuck in their heads, but write off the significant risks we take everyday getting into a car, crossing a street, etc.
Interesting blog article: Outdoor Adventures: Bears: Should you be afraid?
Remind your wife there are risks to crushing dreams too, good luck!
Alaskan dirt junkie
the passing passenger busses pose a far greater danger than the bears. seriously. get bear spray. read up on bear safety. talk to the rangers. don't be an idiot. you'll have a great time. don't let the bears stop you from enjoying alaska.
My family has a cabin just before Tangle l River Lodge at mi 21 On the Paxson side. In 10 years I havenít seen a ton of bears up there; they tend to not want to interact with people. You have more of a chance of having a bear encounter on the hillside in Anchorage. 99 times out of 100 you will not see them and ride by them or they will take off. It is just that 1% that make the news. I would take the advice everyone has given you on here and have a great trip. The Denali Highway is really cool. You probably have a greater chance of getting hit by a car in your home town than you would getting mauled by a bear on Alaska.
I rode the bus into the park and rode my bike out last summer it is an awesome ride. Saw one brown bear close maybe 150 yard crossing the road, when it seen me it was as scared of me as I was of it. Seen lots of bears and other animals off the road. The Park Service has good info on their web site. Iím with the other posts follow the advice of the Park Service and have fun. I would plan on riding at night because it is light all night and you do not have the traffic on the road, in the day you have a bus about every 15 min. or so. It can be dusty if it has not rained.
Lot's of great advice here. I would just add that traveling in bear country is all about prevention. You need to make your presence known in obscured or brushy terrain (Denali is pretty open country). The overwhelming majority of incidents are from humans surprising bears. Keeping your food area, cooking area, and tenting area separated and keep your distance from a bear. As tempting as it is to get close to get that one great pic of a bear, bears are very fast and can knock out a hundred yards in seconds. Most of the time bears will do all they can to avoid you and you will probably not even know you have passed one. Also, don't let carrying a firearm or spray give you a false sense of security (they can tend to make people a little more brazen and let their guard down).
The reality is that millions of days and nights are spent in bear country in N.A.every year and the number of incidents are negligible and shouldn't deter you. Sounds like a great trip and keep in mind that riding at night under the midnight sun produces some amazing scenery and wildlife viewing possibilities.
2014 Fatback Corvus
2010 Ellsworth Epiphany
2008 Fatback Ti
You probably have a greater chance of getting hurt traveling to Alaska than from bear encounters on the Denali park road. Unless you have really bad luck or extremely bad judgement (refrain from smearing yourself with bacon grease for example) everything will be fine. Just give the bears room, and follow the all the rules about storing food and cooking the NPS has for the camp grounds and everything should work out.
To put things in perspective, I biked first 30 miles or so to the Teklanika campground last year with my 5 year old daughters on tag-a-longs, and wasn't concerned about the bears or the traffic.
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I would tell your wife that 5 year old girls do it, so it shouldn't be a problem for you
The incidence of attack may be slim, but the park REQUIRES that you go through their bear education course and, when I was there in 1998 on my honeymoon, carry food in a bear proof container. They will supply you with one if you do not have one. One reason encounters are rare is that they require this education.
The education about preventing an encounter is about human safety and bear protection. Once a bear has eaten human food, they usually destroy it as it will continue to seek it out and become an increasing threat to people.
The thing that struck me there, at least during the day, is that vistas are mostly hugely expansive so the chances of rounding a corner and encountering a bear were slim where we were. You could see for many miles in every direction so few surprises. Nighttime is a different story though and they require you to camp, cook and stash the bear container 100 yards from one another.
Never biked in Denali but backpacked. It was amazing!!!!!
Oops duplicate post. Sorry! Couldn't delete...
We biked from Tokat back to Teklanika with two little ones in the Burley many years ago. We left in the evening and biked through the night so the kids mostly slept and the traffic (and dust) was minimal. Never got dark, of course.