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Bear Identification

Telling a grizzly bear from a black bear can be a challenge because many physical indicators vary with sex and age, and size is also not a reliable indicator. Bear identification is important for your safety and to protect bears. When you know whether you are dealing with a grizzly or a black bear, you know something about the most appropriate actions to take.

Bear ID image from the Center for Wildlife Information.


Color and size can be misleading. Look for a combination of characteristics.

Grizzly Bear
Black Bear


Varies from blond to black

Varies from blond to black

Shoulder hump

Distinctive shoulder hump

No distinctive shoulder hump


Lower than shoulder hump

Higher than front shoulder

Face profile

Dished-in between eyes and snout



Short and rounded

Tall and pointed.

Front claws

2-4 inches long, slightly curved

Less than two inches long and curved


Claw marks are usually visible in tracks

Claw marks are not usually visible in tracks