The American black bear is the smaller and more common of the two bear species in Grand Teton Park. Males average about 270 lbs, but there have been specimens as large as 880 lbs. The females are much smaller at about 180 lbs. Their diet consists mostly of foraged fruits, nuts and plant matter, rounded out with insects and a little meat. Contrary to the name, a black bear is not necessarily all black. Most of them are black, or black with brown muzzles, but it is not unusual to see brownish or even blondish black bears.
Grizzly bears are the biggest predators found in Grand Teton Park, with males weighing an average of 860 lbs, making the typical grizzly as big as the biggest black bear. They have been known to reach a gargantuan 1,300 lbs. Even the smaller females average in at 450 lbs. However, their diet is similar to that of a black bear, with some exceptions. Grizzlies can and do dig out burrowing mammals and take down big, hoofed mammals for meat. However, most of their diet is still based on foraged fruits, nuts, vegetable matter and insects. While most grizzlies are brown, some are very dark brown or even black.
Because a big black bear with brown fur looks a lot like an adolescent grizzly, at first glance the two species are hard to tell apart. However, they both have distinctive characteristics that can help identify them with only a basic visual inspection. The profile of a black bear has a straight line from the nose to the ears, and black bears have pointed ears. Grizzlies have short, round ears and a distinctive hump above the front shoulders.
The best places in the park to see black bears are on the hiking trails around Two Ocean Lake, Emma Matilda Lake, Cascade Canyon and Death Canyon. Grizzlies can also be found on Two Ocean Lake and Emma Lake.
Bears are big predators and need to be treated with care. For the most part they are not interested in humans and will go out of their way to avoid us, and some simple precautions will encourage that behavior. First, hikers should go out of their way to make noise in bear country. That gives bears plenty of notice of the presence of humans, encouraging them to withdraw and at least guaranteeing that one or more hikers will not stumble upon a bear and startle it. Second, hikers and campers need to take extreme care in packing food, since food scents are the thing most likely to attract a bear. The park requires all food to be stored in bear-safe containers, and the park's designated campgrounds all come equipped with them. If a bear is sighted nearby, one must do their best to stand their ground and not run, as fleeing will only attract a chase and most humans have no hope of outrunning a bear.
The park encourages hikers and campers to carry bear spray. Many guides and information sources instruct outdoors enthusiasts to carry pepper spray as a last-ditch bear deterrent, but the National Park Service says that normal pepper spray is ineffective against bears and a specialized bear spray is necessary.