With 1 million bears roaming North America, chances are pretty good that you'll cross paths with one of them at some point. To make every encounter safe, from grizzly bears to black bears, bone up on bruin identification and etiquette.
Know Your Bruin Black bear - First off, they’re not always black—they can be brown and even blond. So look for their big, velvety ears, long, pointy snout, and (if viewing through binocs) short, curved claws. Two to four feet tall at the shoulder (four to six when standing) and weighing between 110 and 400 pounds, black bears live in wooded areas throughout North America, with the densest populations in New England, Canada, the Rockies, and the Pacific West.
Grizzly bear - The king of the wild reaches three to four feet tall at the shoulder and more than six to eight when standing. Weighing between 350 and 1,200 pounds, grizzlies—aka, Kodiaks when in Alaska’s Kodiak region and brown bears when on the coast—range from black to blond and have a long snout, a big hump between their shoulders, long front claws, and short, fuzzy ears. While you may see a grizzly in the U.S. (especially Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming), they mostly inhabit Western Canada, living predominantly on prairies and in open fields. Even the bears that ramble atop mountains wander down to lower areas to feed. “They’ll cover a huge area—as far as 200 miles—to find food,” Rogers says.
Rare Encounters Ghost bear(aka, spirit bear or Kermode bear) - This is a black bear with a recessive gene that turns its fur white—an evolutionary trick for catching fish. Scientists believe the color blends with the sky so salmon don’t know they’re being stalked. Looking for one? Head to British Columbia, the only place they live.
Pizzly bear - A cross between a polar bear and a grizzly, the pizzly is extremely rare. One was shot in April 2010 (allegedly by accident; hunting them is illegal) on Canada’s Victoria Island.
Glacier bear - This black bear in southeast Alaska has bluish-gray fur over its entire body.