Aggressive Bears Wreak Havoc on Hikers’ Plans for Parts of the AT

Forest Service shutters campsites and shelters over a 13-mile stretch after receiving reports of multiple aggressive bruins.

Photo: Bill Pennell / Unsplash

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Authorities have closed a 13-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee to camping until further notice due to aggressive bear activity, the Forest Service says. 

The closure, from mile 451 to 464 northbound, includes shelters and campsites between (but not including) Double Springs Shelter and the Backbone Side Trail. Hiking is still permitted in the region. But authorities suggest taking extra precautions to avoid bear encounters while on the trail. 

The Forest Service shared that multiple hikers have reported encounters with aggressive bears in the area, with evidence suggesting that bears may have entered campsites to remove food recently. While backpackers are still permitted to hike through the area, all campsites and shelters—including the Double Springs Shelter and the Backbone Side Trail–are off-limits. 

Aggressive bears near the AT aren’t a new problem, especially in Tennessee, where bruins have caused problems in or around portions of Great Smoky National Park, McQueens Knob, Watauga Dam, and Watauga Lake Shelter. 

In the release, the Forest Service reminded hikers that Cherokee National Forest mandates bear-safe food storage: All visitors need to store or dispose of food and other scented attractants in a bear-safe container, in their locked vehicles, or in a bear bag suspended at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from tree limbs. (Be aware that in some areas, where local bruins have figured out how to take down bear hangs, that last method many not be enough.)

Bear attacks are relatively rare, especially along the AT corridor. Between 2000 and 2016, 23 fatal bear attacks occurred in the United States, with just two of those taking place in Tennesee. Hikers can take steps to prevent potentially dangerous bear encounters by taking some basic precautions.

How to camp smart in bear country

  • Make plenty of noise to alert bears to your presence.
  • Never feed or approach bears. 
  • Do not cook or store food in or near your tent. 
  • Safely dispose of food or odor-rich waste. 
  • Maintain a clean campsite. 
  • If a bear approaches your campsite, attempt to scare the bear away with loud noises. If the bear still refuses to move, slowly exit the area for your own safety. 
  • If attacked by a black bear, don’t play dead; instead, fight back with whatever you have available.

Correction 6/7/2021: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there had been two fatal bear attacks on the Appalachian Trail. Backpacker regrets the error.

From 2022