Black Bears are New York State’s second-largest mammal after the moose, which is the largest. These gentle giants rank among the state’s most revered wildlife creatures and are incredibly fascinating. They are curious, smart, mischievous, and also extremely efficient scavengers!
New York is lucky to have black bears widely distributed across the state. The extensive forest lands of Northern New York serve as a crucial habitat for these seemingly cuddly creatures. The state currently has an estimated minimum of 6,000-8,000 bears, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. With a bear population this huge, you would think that your odds of running into a bear in the region are great. In reality, though, bear sightings in New York are still pretty rare and become even more limited after fall. So, if you want to witness the massive black bear in the wild this year, this is probably your last chance before they go into hibernation! Here are some of the best places to see black bears in New York this fall. But, before we can dive into the best places for bear viewing, here’s some information on the type of bear species that live in New York.
What Species of Bears Live in New York?
Black bears are the only indigenous bear species in New York. They exist throughout New York, and the majority (about 85%) of the black bear population can be found in the Adirondacks and Catskills region. The remaining 10-15% of the state’s black bear population inhabit the central-western region.
The presence of bears in these areas is due to the abundance of forests and wetlands in the region. New York State’s forests have a wealth of natural foods for bears such as blueberries and raspberries in the summer, and black cherries, beechnuts, and acorns in the fall.
Why Fall is the Best Time for Bear Viewing?
During the fall months, bears enter into a gluttonous stage called ‘hyperphagia’. They develop ravenous appetites and find the need to eat and drink nearly nonstop before they enter the den for winter and start hibernation. This means that bears typically become more active in the fall. They will search for every bit of food and it is not unusual to see them descending from the woods. Often, they are seen rummaging through trash cans or licking food and grease off barbeque grills even in human-inhabited areas.
As bears go into this hyperdrive in preparation for winter, they give you a better chance to see them.
How Do You Know If Bears Are Nearby?
The easiest way to know if there is a bear nearby is to look for markings on trees and poles. Black bears are known to mark their territories by clawing trees. These claw marks are usually found at a height of 4-7 feet off the ground.
Fresh scat and diggings are other common signs that you are fairly close to a bear. The more dig spots you find around an area, the more likely you are to encounter a bear.
Where Are Bears More Likely to Be in New York This Fall?
From the massive moose to coyotes, black bears, white-tailed deers, and chipmunks, the Adirondacks, is home to more than 50 species of mammals. It is nearly impossible to walk through this vast wilderness region in North New York without encountering something new! The region is home to an estimated 50-60% of the state’s black bear population and offers fantastic opportunities for black bear sightings. Bears have often been spotted by campers and hikers in the backcountry as well as at public campgrounds. If you are desperate to see a bear on the prowl, head to the High Peaks. The Eastern High Peaks Wilderness area, specifically has a healthy population of black bears.
The areas from Marcy Dam to Lake Colden and the Flowed Lands have also been seeing an uptick in bear activity. This is primarily because people have been carelessly feeding them with their trash. So, while your chances of a bear encounter in these backcountry campsites remain high, remember to exercise caution! Bears in search of an ‘easy meal’ can be potentially dangerous and aggressive.
2. The Catskill Region
The Catskills region is another hotspot for black bears. Its primeval landscape and larger Appalachian Mountains serve as an ideal habitat for approximately 1,800 bears. The best way to spot a bear in this region would be to hike along the mountain trails. Nearly every mountain range in the Catskill Mountains contains bears. But before you head out, be sure to check a handy guide on bear safety. This will tell you what to do in case of a bear encounter.
3. Allegany State Park
Located in Western New York, the Allegany State Park covering 65,000 acres of wooded wilderness offers incredible opportunities for bear viewing. Hike or bike more than 90 miles of trails or settle into one of the 424 campsites or cabins and cottages to catch a glimpse of the black bear at this park. If and when you cross paths with a bear, do not try to approach or chase it though, as this can aggravate these strong, wild animals.
4. The Tug Hill Plateau
Tug Hill Plateau, spanning over 2,000 square miles east of the Rockies has a distinctive landscape of limestone and shale, spectacular river gorges, misty wetlands, and thick forests. Black bears are known to occupy this suitable habitat and it serves as a great place to spot bears lumbering around. Consider embarking along the Black River Valley if you are here, as the presence of bears is especially evident along the eastern edge of the valley. The Lewis and Oswego counties also have a small population of breeding bears.
5. Hudson Valley
The quiet green spaces of the Hudson Valley are an incredible bear viewing area. Most of the land in the region is rugged and forested, with very few roads or human inhabitants, making it an ideal place for black bears to live.
Located at the heart of the valley is also the sprawling ‘Bear Mountain State Park’ The state park has trailside museums and a zoo, apart from a black bear exhibit, and is a great place to enjoy an immersive bear-viewing experience.
6. Lake Ontario Plains
The Ontario plains that hug Lake Ontario, one of the largest fishery resources in New York state have a fair bit of established populations and farmland around them. Because of the elusive ways of bears and how fearful and skittish they are around humans, bear occurrences in this area are rather infrequent. During fall, however, your chances of bear sightings in the region could be higher as transient bears move around in search of food.
7. Mohawk Valley
The Mohawk Valley, located along the Mohawk River is a peripheral area between the Northern and Southern Black Bear ranges. Bears spotted in the area are normally transient bears, moving as a result of breeding activity or dispersal. As reports of bears wandering out in the urban-suburban areas of Mohawk Valley are becoming more common, your chances of sighting a bear in this area are actually pretty high.
8. St. Lawrence County
St. Lawrence County located within the Adirondacks region is unique in its intricate mixture of public and private lands. It is the largest county in New York State and contains beautiful waterfalls, free-flowing lakes, mountaintop wilderness vistas, and virgin forest tracts. Bear invasions in the region have recently seen an uptick as they are seen moving around to take advantage of the areas of active agriculture.
While sightings in the valley are sporadic, bear occurrences are more likely to happen in the southern fringe of the St.Lawrence River Valley.
What Should You Do in Case of a Bear Encounter?
- Identify yourself by talking in low tones and a calm voice so that a bear can recognize you are human and not a prey animal.
- Stay still and wave your arms slowly. Do not run, or make sudden movements as this can trigger an attack.
- Do not stare at a bear or get too close to photograph them. A bear may perceive direct eye contact as a challenge!
- Make yourself look as large as possible. Spread your arms or your coat or just move to higher ground.
- Do not give them access to your food. Feeding bears intentionally is not just illegal but also dangerous. When you feed a bear they lose their natural fear of humans and become a potential threat.
- Do not attempt to climb a tree and never abandon your backpack as this can give bears access to your food. If you have to move, move away slowly and sideways.
- Be especially cautious around female bears with cubs. If the female perceives any danger to her cubs, the chances of an attack escalate greatly.
Usually if a bear grunts or snaps its jaw it is a warning that you are too close. He may warn you again by facing you directly and may have his head and ears up and forward when he is ready to attack. That said, bear attacks are rare. If you happen to find yourself attacked by a black bear, you should try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building immediately. If there is no escape route visible, fight back with whatever object you have on hand. EPA-approved bear sprays are usually the best way to deter an aggressive bear.
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