5 Places You’re Most Likely to Encounter a Bear in Ohio This Fall

Written by Zoe Carina
Updated: November 14, 2023
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The bear has lived on the American continent long before colonization. For centuries, indigenous peoples lived in tandem with these carnivorans. Occasionally humans would hunt bears for their fur, claws, and other parts but bears would also occasionally kill humans. There was balance.

When western colonizers invaded Turtle Island, they began to exterminate bears alongside native peoples. Rather than being respected, these colonizers considered the bears nuisances and killed any that they encountered. They would also cut, clear, and burn most of the animal’s habitats for farm fields and pastures.

By the mid-1900s, bear populations were in sharp decline throughout the continent. Only through science-based wildlife management, were population levels able to rebound to about 60% of the original number.

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Ohio is an exceptional case in the history of the bear. By 1850, due to the white supremacist culture of excessive hunting, trapping, and forest razing, the animal disappeared from the area. With hunting and land use regulations, animal monitoring systems, and habitat restoration, bears have returned to the state.

If you are planning a trip to Ohio, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the animals. Here are the five places you’ll be most likely to encounter a bear in Ohio.

Where is Ohio?

Ohio oh a US state map, the major cities marked

Ohio is located in the Midwest region, bordering Indiana and Kentucky.

©Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com

Ohio is stolen land that housed many native tribes before colonization. Three nations lived in the area: The Erie, Kickapoo, and Shawnee. European colonizers named Ohio the original reservation state. Many other indigenous nations fled to Ohio after conflict or forced relocation.

These other nations include the Lenape, Myaamia, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Seneca. Currently, there are no federally recognized indigenous communities in Ohio. Groups like the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band are pushing for recognition and support.

Which Species of Bear Live in Ohio?

American black bear (Ursus americanus)  Jasper National Park Kanada

While the American black bear is a common species in the rest of the world, it is endangered in Ohio.

©Frank Fichtmüller/iStock via Getty Images

The American black bear was once a common sight in the land currently called Ohio. The animals would swim, run, hunt, and play within the forest areas of the state. Early colonizers vehemently hunted these animals due to their supposed “pest” status.

When the mid-1800s hit, there were no black bears in Ohio at all. It took until 1993 for sightings of the animal to become possible again. These days the black bear population is slowly but steadily increasing and there are about 25,000.

About the American Black Bear

Mother Bear and Two Cubs in a Tree

Black bears can run up to 35 miles-per-hour.

©dssimages/iStock via Getty Images

The black bear is common throughout the North American continent, spotted everywhere from Alaska to Northern Mexico. These medium-sized animals live between 20 to 40 years.

Black bears are nocturnal and solitary, unless gathered around an ample food source, animals. The animals can run up to 30 miles-per-hour.

The baby black bears are called cubs and pregnancies result in three per litter.


Black bears break into homes

Black bears often walk on their hind legs.

©steverts/iStock via Getty Images

The black bear has particularly short claws that make them great climbers. Their fur is thick, long, and either black, dark brown, or tan. They have a pointed snout and rounded ears. Black bears can weigh between 220- to 594-lbs.

Black bears have small eyes, short legs, and an excellent sense of smell.


Black bear sitting on the ground surrounded by greenery in a forest with a blurry background

Black bears are omnivores.

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The black bear eats fruits, nuts, and rodents. Between 75- and 95% of their diet is vegetarian. They will pluck fruits and nuts off branches with their lips and front paws. The animals will also eat grasses, roots, and bulbs. Insects and rodents supplement their diet when available.

Though less commonly seen, black bears will also hunt young deer, eat birds, and catch fish in rivers. Bears spend the majority of their waking hours eating to build up their fat reserves for winter.


American black bear (Ursus americanus), Glacier National Park, Montana

Bears have a sense of smell 100 times better than a human.

©Greens and Blues/Shutterstock.com

Full grown adult black bears have few natural predators within their habitats. The only threat to an adult black bear is the grizzly bear. Young cubs face threats from foxes, birds of prey, and sometimes other black bears.

Where are Black Bears in Ohio?

These days, people commonly see black bears in northeast and southeast Ohio. Let’s dive into the five most common areas to see bears in Ohio.

#1 Wayne National Forest – Nelsonville

Animal Wildlife, Animals In The Wild, Bear, Beauty, Black Bear

Black bears prefer to inhabit forested areas and only visit urban or suburban environments if driven by intense hunger.

©iStock.com/John Morrison

Wayne National Forest is the largest forest in Ohio. The park, which covers over a quarter million acres, is located in Nelsonville, OH. The land is mostly Appalachian foothills. There are three units of the park and all of them contain black bears.

Most of the animals are young males who roam around the forest searching for food. The population of black bears in the forest is steadily increasing, but due to the large area, a sighting is still rare.

#2 Ashtabula County

Looking for Food

In 2018, 191 black bear sightings civilians reported in 45 Ohio counties.

©BeyondMyLens/iStock via Getty Images

Ashtabula County is the farthest northeast county in the state, situated along Lake Erie and the border of Pennsylvania. Black bears sightings have become more common as conservation efforts increase.

Recently a black bear arrived at the immoral Ashtabula County jail in search of food. The bear did not find any food and hurriedly left the area. This sighting was one of many in the county during the summer.

#3 Cuyahoga County

Mother bear gently nibbles at her cub as the lie on the grass

Black bears can easily remember previous locations of food.

©Susan Kehoe/Shutterstock.com

Cuyahoga County is another northeastern county in the state of Ohio. The county includes Cleveland and sits along Lake Erie. Most of the black bear sightings have come from the Chagrin River Valley and most have been lone young animals.

In Willoughby, humans saw a black bear grazing from a backyard bird feeder. This bear started in Ashtabula county and migrated west in search of food and to escape the heat.

#4 Geauga County

Black Bear on Dumpster

Black bears recognize one another as individuals.

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Just east of Cuyahoga County is Geauga County. This area has also seen multiple black bears recently. The park district maintains a website that allows residents and travelers to report when and where they spot an animal in the area.

In 2021, a civilian spotted one black bear wandering in a residential area in Parkman, Ohio.

#5 Lake County

Black bear, New Mexico

Black bears frequently sit on their tailbones and use their front paws to throw rocks or use branches to scratch their backs.


Bordering Lake Erie, to the east of Cleveland, is the county of Lake. The area houses a small population of black bears. Most though are wandering through the area, either looking for nourishment, escaping larger bears, or fleeing warm weather.

In 2022, a black bear wandered near Oakridge Drive looking for a food source.

What To Do If You See a Black Bear

Black Bear on road Mt Rainier, Washington

Black bears can develop a taste for human food and garbage if fed, so do not feed the animals.

©iStock.com/Mark Lee

If you see a black bear during your travels in Ohio, do not approach it. Bears are naturally averse to humans and will only lash out if prompted by fear. If possible, take a wilderness safety class that includes bear response training.

In most cases, a black bear will approach human residential or camping areas in search of food. Keep all food stored away safely. If you are a resident or staying in the area, follow the trash schedule diligently. Do not leave trash outside and unattended.

Summary of 5 Places You’re Most Likely to Encounter a Bear in Ohio This Fall

1Wayne National Forest
2Ashtabula County
3Cuyahoga County
4Geauga County
5Lake County

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Elizabeth Caron/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Zoe Carina is a writer at A-Z Animals who primarily covers plants, animals, and places around the world. Zoe has been a professional copywriter and freelancer for six years and holds a bachelors degree in communications from Florida State University, which they earned in 2019. A resident of Oregon, Zoe runs a blog called Intuitive Traveler, where they write about traveling and language learning.

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