A black bear looks to the camera while wandering the forest.

Wildlife Safety in Big Bear

Posted: 07/07/23

Nature has a way of putting things in perspective and helping us appreciate the world we live in. We've heard it many times that getting outdoors is medicine for the mind, body, and soul. However, it's important to remember that Big Bear is home to many wildlife species and we share our wilderness with them.

During your stay in Big Bear or out on the trails, you may spot critters like squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits who pose little to no threat and are quick to scamper off at the sight of us humans. Rarely, you may spot larger wildlife like bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes who are equally averse to humans but can pose a real danger if threatened or afraid.

Remember these rules when enjoying wilderness areas:

  • Do Not Feed Wild Animals (it's when animals stop fearing humans that dangerous accidents occur)
  • Do Not Approach Wild Animals (or allow children to chase smaller creatures like rabbits, birds, etc.)
  • Do Not Leave Children and Pets Unattended
  • Do Not Hike/Bike/Camp Alone (especially at night)
  • Be Aware Of Your Surroundings At All Times
  • Know Where You're Hiking/Camping and Let Others Know Where You Are

Spend some time learning about safe protocols when encountering wildlife in the forest!

Wildlife Safety in Big Bear

Birds & Rodents - Big Bear's most seen wildlife are squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. While these furry, feathery critters are not likely to pose a threat, it's important not to touch, pursue, directly feed, or try to capture them. Wild animals can carry diseases that spread to humans through touching or biting.

Rattlesnakes - As winter gives way to the warmer spring and summer months, rattlesnakes make their way out of hibernation. Understand that rattlesnakes are not naturally aggressive and don't seek out humans to attack. Most snake bites occur when the snake is handled, threatened, or stepped on. Rattlers like to hide out under logs and rocks, so be aware of your surroundings when stepping over these obstacles.

Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors. About 25 percent of bites are “dry,” meaning no venom is injected, but the bite still requires medical treatment. Depending on weather and threatening conditions such wildfires; rattlesnakes may roam at any time of the day or night. If walking at night, be sure to use a flashlight. US Forest Service

Read quick facts and learn the Do's and Dont's of Rattlesnake bites:

Further Reading:

A rattlesnake sits coiled under a log along a wooded trail.

Bears - Any bear you encounter in Big Bear Lake will be a black bear and, like rattlesnakes, they tend to avoid humans. It's rare that you should encounter a bear, but just in case you do, follow these key guidelines:

  • Remain calm
  • Do Not Run!
  • Pick up any small children and group together anyone with you
  • Back away while facing the bear
  • Talk to the bear to identify yourself as human
  • If the bear approaches you, make yourself appear large and make noise
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it

Bears are naturally curious and always hungry. When camping, it's important to keep your site clean and to dispose of trash properly. NEVER store food or other attractants in or near your tent. Secure these items either in food lockers or away from the immediate site area.

Read further:

A black bear looks to the camera while wandering the forest.

Mountain Lions - Like bears and snakes, mountain lions tend to avoid humans, but even at a distance, a mountain lion - or cougar - sighting should be taken seriously. If the cougar hasn't spotted you, leave the area immediately. Never attract the attention of a mountain lion or approach one - especially kittens as the protective mother is nearby! If one does see you:

  • Do not run
  • Back away facing the animal and try to make yourself look large
  • If the animal approaches you, make noise, throw sticks or rocks
  • If the animal attacks, fight back
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in the wilderness

Read further on Mountain Lion Safety: Mountain Lion Safety & Facts From San Bernardino County

A mountain lion prowls the mountain landscape.

Coyotes - While coyotes pose little threat to humans and mainly feast on squirrels and rabbits, cats and small dogs make an easy meal for Big Bear coyotes. Never leave small pets alone outdoors, even in a fenced yard, and don't leave children unattended either. It's never okay to feed coyotes or approach them. They may look like a dog but they are wild and unpredictable.

Keep these easy tips in mind if you spot or encounter a coyote in Big Bear.

A coyote in the wild looks towards the camera.

Burros - If you're staying on the east end of the valley - Erwin Lake or Baldwin Lake - you may see wild burros grazing in fields or wandering near the highways. When in these areas, slow down and be especially aware at night as burros may be present in the road. Do not attempt to feed the burros as accidental bites can happen. Spooked burros can also rear and kick.

A brown and gray burro stands in a mountain landscape. Yellow flowers are seen in the foreground.