Camping with Bears
We have always camped in upstate NY where there are frequent bear sightings. Heck, we live downstate where bear sightings may not be as frequent, but happen often enough that you always have a story about one not far away. But we had never actually seen or experienced a bear up close while camping in NY until now.
For this trip, we stayed at Kenneth L. Wilson in Mt. Tremper in the Catskills. We don’t love to camp over the 4th of July because there are too many people and fireworks that scare the dog. But we find that camping right after the 4th can be a really quiet and lovely time. So we took advantage of a few vacation days and booked a midweek trip to stay on our favorite sites in one of our favorite places.
We got to camp in the late afternoon and had everything setup and ready within an hour. I was in the camper bathroom when I heard the dog growling out the camper door and I knew it wasn’t a normal growl. I was frantically pulling up my pants when I opened the bathroom door and could see in the distance a bear headed through the woods and straight toward our camp. He was about 40 yards away when I was calling for Tom to get into the camper with us and the bear saw us looking at him. He turned around and headed back the way he came as Tom backed towards the camper. He was a bit skinny and small, a youngish bear. We were surprised that our shih tzu was such a good watch dog. Ketu (all three of us, really) stayed on watch most of the evening and were exhausted by bedtime.
The next morning we got up and there was no sign that a bear had been around our camp overnight. I went to the bathhouse and on my way back, I noticed Tom at the edge of our camp holding the dog in his arms and frantically gesturing. There was a much bigger bear headed along the edge of our camp and into the next one. The bear stopped and saw Tom and then me as I waved at him and the bear loped off toward some of the empty camps beyond us. This one had kind of snuck up on Tom and Ketu and was closer than the one the night before, and Ketu again saw/smelled it before we did. We were happy to see that the bear still had a healthy fear of people.
We were sure to keep camp clean as we prepped to leave and got on with our day. When we got back late in the day, I noticed that one of the inflatable solar Luci lights was smashed and upside down a couple of feet from where I had left it to charge in the sun. When I picked it up, it clearly had been punctured and appeared to have a couple of bite marks. We weren’t sure it was a bear until we also noticed that the container where we had some recyclable bottles had also been tossed around and turned upside down. Yep. A bear came through camp in broad daylight while we were gone.
That inspired us to make sure dinner was done before dusk and that ALL the smells from it either were carried to the camp trash house or put back into the locked car (including the clothes we were wearing and uneaten food). Even so, we were careful once we were back in the camper to go to bed to think through what actions we’d take if a bear showed up in the night and tried to get into the camper. We quickly settled on turning on the lights, setting off the car alarm and grabbing the bear spray as the things that would work most quickly to set him scurrying away.
There have been no more signs of a bear today, but it has made us take a different look at our favorite site. It is an easy site for a bear to meander into. We’re at the edge of the campground and there is a nice ridge where he can keep an eye out for when is best to stop by. Alternately, there is a low spot just behind a ridge where we can’t easily see until he is very close. Tonight we’re not so worried, because there are definitely others around who are a little less seasoned campers and easier targets than we are. And we have read and re-read all the tips about safely camping near bears.