Fear Friday: Camp in an Active Bear Area

May 13, 2016

Fear Friday: Camp in an Active Bear Area / Unbrave Girl

When I arrived at the campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week to windy, cold weather, I was elated. Sure, it was not exactly camp-worthy conditions, but I was pretty sure that meant I’d have pretty much the whole place to myself. And, much to my delight, I did.

Last summer the majority of my solo camping trips were spent in busy state campgrounds packed full of families and couples. All my actions, whether it was cooking hot dogs on an open fire or wrestling with the rain fly of my tent, were done to the background music of screaming children, barking dogs, blaring Steve Miller Band songs, Nascar-ing car radios, fighting couples and, ahem, making up couples, (ifyouknowwhatImean).

While my Instagram photos might have made me look at peace with nature and one with solitude, I was usually on the verge of wanting to KILL ALL THE PEOPLE BECAUSE DID YOU REALLY COME ALL THE WAY OUT TO THE WOODS TO LISTEN TO NASCAR? REALLY??? DID YOU NOW???

Fear Friday: Camp in an Active Bear Area / Unbrave Girl

Secretly seething with murderous rage.

As I parked and put up my tent, I reveled in the silence. Finally, I would be able to camp and enjoy the outdoors instead of just wanting to be indoors away from all the people I wanted to kill.

And then I made the mistake of reading the informational handout for the campsite. There underneath the notices about quiet hours and generator use was this:

Fear Friday: Camp in an Active Bear Area / Unbrave Girl



So, surely, they meant business.

Suddenly, I missed having camping neighbors. Especially camping neighbors with lots of small children. Sure, having children running around your campsite screaming at all hours of the day can be annoying, especially when all you want is a little PEACE AND QUIET SOHELPMEGOD. But, on the plus side, children are snack-sized and usually covered in ketchup or chocolate. I’m no bear expert, but I’m pretty sure bears would prefer that over an overweight, forty-year old spinster slathered in OFF! Deep Woods and Oil of Olay anti-wrinkle night cream.

At the deserted Sleeping Bear Dunes campground, my only competition for the bears’ attentions was an elderly couple in a bulky RV a good six sites away. Their RV looked totally bear-proof. My new light-weight tent, on the other hand, looked like a dainty, delicious crepe wrapped around a tasty, meaty filling (aka ME).

As I went to sleep that night, bundled up in two sleeping bags and no less than six layers, I tried to push the ACTIVE BEAR AREA warning out of my head. But this is hard to do when there’s wind whipping around your tent and OMIGOD, WHAT’S THAT NOISE?? IS THAT A BEAR?? OMIGOD, IT’S A BEAR!!! I’M GOING TO DIE!!!

I lasted about two sleepless hours before I called it quits and dragged myself and my two sleeping bags to the backseat of my car. I spent the rest of the night battling seat belt buckles and trying to figure out where to put my legs. It was not comfortable, but it was warmer, quieter and, I reasoned, my car was a lot less dainty and crepe-like than my tent.

The next day, the sun came out and the wind died away. A lot more campers showed up at the campground, including a couple who pulled up to the site next to mine. As I listened to them bickering over how to set up their tent, I breathed a sigh of relief. They sounded absolutely delicious.


Have you ever camped in an ACTIVE BEAR AREA? What did you do to prevent yourself from being eaten by bears? I am serious. I want to know.


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On May 13, 2016 at 9:31 am Paula said:

    This post made me laugh so much! Especially the part about the snack-sized children! lol!
    Paula recently posted..The Great Bathroom Debate: It’s not about what you think

  2. On May 13, 2016 at 10:20 am zoe said:

    It’s funny, I’m from Australia so you’d think I’d have no fear of any wildlife, but the thought of BEARS in a CAMPSITE fills me with absolute terror. They’re bigger than me and they probably want to eat me! I’d be sleeping in the car too.
    zoe recently posted..Green grass and pots of ragù and day-to-day life.

    • On May 15, 2016 at 1:18 pm Sally said:

      I’ve heard that bears are easily scared by humans and very rarely attack unless you come between a mother bear and her babies. So I guess this is…. comforting? But I’m still completely terrified.

  3. On May 13, 2016 at 11:55 am Michelle said:

    Yes, I’ve camped in active bear areas several times, but still have never seen a bear in the wild! Haha, maybe we are just very safe 🙂
    Michelle recently posted..31 Birthday Freebies You Should Sign Up For

  4. On May 13, 2016 at 12:47 pm Rose said:

    I have camped in active bear areas before. The first time I went with a group and the leaders spent HOURS putting all our food up in a tree so the bears couldn’t eat it and then spent HOURS lecturing us about how we should dispose of food waste. The second time I had decided that all that precaution was dumb so I used my food sack as a pillow and the only thing that attacked me was a chipmunk. All. Night. Long. The morale of the story, don’t worry about bears attacking your food, worry about the chipmunks!!!

    • On May 15, 2016 at 1:16 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha. I had a similar experience. Here I spent all that time worrying about the bears attacking me and I was almost killed by a mouse. (Blog post to follow.) 🙂

  5. On May 13, 2016 at 1:37 pm Jessie said:

    BEST last sentence, EVER.

  6. On May 13, 2016 at 3:06 pm Leslie in Oregon said:

    Sally, did you make the mistake of watching the bear scene in The Revenant? If so, no wonder you were terrified by tent camping alone in an “active bear” area. (Although I suspect that the warning uses the phrase “active bear” so that campers won’t be lulled into complacency by the area’s name [“Sleeping Bear…”].)
    I have camped in a tent and in the open in wilderness areas where there were bears, but I’ve never been aware of a bear nearby. I did take all the advised precautions with the food I had with me. (And I did draw the line at camping in grizzly bear wilderness, at least with my toddler.)
    Back in the days when wildlife was free to roam in Africa, I camped alone in a tent all over Kenya and Tanzania. Lions were definitely an issue, but my canvas tent felt very sturdy. One night, I sensed warmth in the side of the tent against which I was sleeping. It turned out to be an elephant standing outside my tent, maybe leaning slightly toward it. Not having been forced to face mortality yet (I was 23), I was somewhat worried about being crushed but not terrified.
    To be honest, when I camp now, I am more concerned about the dangers posed by my fellow human beings than from by wild animals. In decades of camping, however, neither have done me harm. And my trusty guard-Dachshund and guard-Golden Retriever are always closeby!

    • On May 15, 2016 at 1:15 pm Sally said:

      I haven’t seen The Revenant. Making a mental note to NEVER SEE IT EVER if I ever want to go camping again.
      And, OMIGOD, hiking with lions and elephants??? That sounds TERRIFYING!

      • On May 15, 2016 at 8:39 pm Leslie in Oregon said:

        Somehow, it wasn’t terrifying at the time. Maybe I was just incredibly naive…
        I’m not going to see The Revenant either. Just like, as a devoted open-water swimmer, I have never seen Jaws.

  7. On May 13, 2016 at 7:10 pm Priya Shah said:

    Kind of like that time I slept in the outback with deadly snakes . This is why I don’t camp 😊
    Priya Shah recently posted..New Zealand Was Just What My Heart Needed

  8. On May 14, 2016 at 10:54 am Sarah said:

    We’ve been camping in active bear areas plenty, but only had one potential bear-tent encounter. We had just gone to bed (so it was like 8 or 9 pm), and then something that sounded large came and sniffed at the tent… and we just had to sit there being as quiet as possible until we heard it lumber off. So we didn’t confirm it was a bear, because obviosuly opening your tent to see what’s sniffing at you and startling it is a horrible idea, but ohmygosh that was a scary night. We had originally planned to camp 2 nights, but the next morning we immediately packed up and went home. So no advice, aside from securing your food and any toiletries with scents, but I can sympathize!

  9. On May 14, 2016 at 7:47 pm Lori said:

    This was so funny to me after I was hiking yesterday and saw a sign warning about mountain lions. 4 MILES IN. This might have been important at the trailhead.

    • On May 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm Sally said:

      Omigod. That is TERRIFYING. And, yes, that information should have been provided a LOT earlier. Like before you even got out of your car!

  10. On May 19, 2016 at 9:46 am choi kum fook said:

    As in my experience after thirty years of working in jungle, the wild animals usually do not attack human being unless they have been interrupted. The Malaysian bear, the size a bit larger than a dog, not consider a fierce animal. They like to climb up the tree to crack the nest of bee and eat the honey. I do not know the bear in temperate zone or cold zone in Michigan. Anyhow,the polar bear is awesome and horrible!

    • On May 22, 2016 at 9:25 pm Sally said:

      Michigan has the black bear which is pretty big (usually 200-400 pounds I think depending on gender). But I’ve heard they’re relatively scared of humans. And, luckily, they’re a lot smaller and less ferocious than a polar bear!

  11. On May 21, 2016 at 1:04 pm Heather said:

    HA! Love this!!!

  12. On May 22, 2016 at 6:23 pm Amy said:

    Awesome article! I just got home from a family camping trip and found your blog while researching “camping solo”! You’ve inspired me (but not yet ready for active bear areas)! Thank you!

    • On May 22, 2016 at 9:21 pm Sally said:

      So glad I could inspire you to take a solo camping trip. If you are nervous about the bears (as you SHOULD be), I recommend camping in a state park or somewhere where there are plenty of other campers around. It gets kind of noisy, but at least there are lots of other tasty “snacks” for the bears! 🙂

  13. On June 13, 2016 at 4:07 pm Kelly said:

    I camped solo at Nordhouse dunes last night(Sunday) and like you, I was there by myself, I had watched all the couples and families pack up and hike out thinking its going to be quiet for a change. Then the park ranger came to my site and told me i was going to be the only camper in the park that night. That had me thinking anout packing up, but i had two dogs with me so I stuck it out. And you guessed it, I had a bear in camp that night. I could hear it snorting, growled three times, it ate the dog food that was out. I had hung my food in the tree so my coffee was safe! I just turned on the lights and made a lot of noise and it left. The dogs were trying to escape the tent to chase it but when they heard it leaving they settled right down. We never heard another noise for the rest of the night. That was my second bear encounter this summer. Im thinking about switching to a hammock so that i don’ t look like a crepe anymore.

    • On June 13, 2016 at 6:19 pm Sally said:

      OMIGOD. Your comment is FREAKING ME OUT SO MUCH. I’m supposed to be camping near Nordhouse Dunes this weekend! AGGGHH! Were you at the campground on the Lake or were you in one of the dispersed sites? I’m car camping this weekend at the campground, but I’m planning on doing some backpacking on the Manistee River Trail next month… but now with all this talk of bears I’m not so sure!

  14. On July 16, 2016 at 3:14 pm Juliebird said:

    Omg, we’re going next weekend with our four month old and I’m FREAKING OUT that someone saw a bear at Nordhouse THIS SEASON

    • On July 17, 2016 at 3:45 pm Sally said:

      Don’t freak out (says the girl who is ALWAYS freaking out!). If you’re staying at the campsite, there’s probably too much noise/people/what-have-you to scare the bear off. If you’re staying in a dispersed site, well, umm, bring bear mace???


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