Photo Essay: Grizzly Climbs a Tree in Katmai National Park and Preserve

Candice Gaukel Andrews August 8, 2013 11

A common misconception is that grizzly bears, unlike black bears, cannot climb trees. But during my recent trip to Alaska, I found proof that they can. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Having just returned from a trip to Alaska, I can unequivocally state that grizzly bears do climb trees.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard that black bears are agile climbers, but grizzlies rarely scamper up trunks. In fact, some experts will even advise climbing high in a tree to escape a grizzly that is deemed likely to charge.

A recent experience at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve has changed my thinking on that. While eating dinner one night in the camp dining room, a grizzly bear walked by the large windows. To my surprise, it promptly climbed a tree. I have the photos to prove it.

Finding a grizzly in a tree was just part of what made my adventure in Alaska so remarkable. @Candice Gaukel Andrews

The next day, out on the platforms near the falls, I watched as a mother grizzly safeguarded one of her three cubs by placing it in a tree.

The National Park Service (NPS) at Denali National Park and Preserve states that young grizzlies can climb trees as effectively as most black bears, but adult grizzly bears have more difficulty. Most grizzlies can climb a tree if it has ladder-like branches, although their weight and claw structure prevents them from climbing as efficiently as black bears. Contrary to some advice, the NPS at Denali suggests that you NOT climb a tree to avoid a bear: three of the 23 documented bear-induced human injuries in Denali involved grizzlies pulling humans out of trees.

Young grizzlies are agile and can climb trees as well as most black bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The first two images above are some very recent ones, taken of a nimble grizzly that just happened to prefer a high spot outside my dining room window at Brooks Camp about a week ago. Take a look at them, and then watch the video below (click on the photo) from Yosemite National Park of an athletic, adult black bear climbing a tree.

Black bears and grizzly bears climb trees; and if you’re lucky, you may get to watch them ascend. It’s all part of what makes an adventure in Alaska so remarkable.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Gillian Gaspard August 12, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for the info and photo.

  2. Samantha de Vos August 12, 2013 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Good to know that they can climb a tree.

  3. Carlyn Kline August 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Why did the grizzly climb the tree? Because he could. We will pass this on to those of our progeny who have continued our camping traditions. We taught them the prevailing wisdom of the time which was that grizzlies don’t climb trees. Sometimes the truth changes faster than I can keep up with.

  4. John Gookin August 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    They routinely have grizzly bears climb trees at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West yellowstone, MT. It may not be as easy for them as it is for black bears, but they can do it.

    Thanks for the great photos and for that Yosemite video showing how nimble that black bear is while scampering up the bark of a huge tree, almost like a squirrel.

  5. Dale Stubbart August 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Good to know! That looks like a small tree compared to the size of that bear.

  6. Doug Wilson August 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    I have seen sub adults grizzlies climb trees on occasion. Because of their young age their claws are still more flexible than an adult. I saw a large male climb a tree going from front arm pit to front arm pit and using his back paws to dig into the tree trunk.

    Great photos.

  7. Linda Plate August 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    I had no idea!

  8. Phillip Tureck - FRGS August 9, 2013 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Rare for a grizzly to climb a tree and I liked this link and story Candice.

    My grizzlies from the Great Bear Rainforest trip are at:

  9. Bob Johnston August 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    This is the first I’ve heard of a grizzly being able to climb a tree. Is this perhaps a cross between breeds?

  10. white pine August 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    What a great place to be–in Alaska again. Thanks for sharing these tree-climbing photos. I am not surprised that grizzlies climb. In my view, grizzlies are capable of just about anything they put their mind to.

  11. Travis August 8, 2013 at 10:42 am - Reply

    She was a wild one!

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