Where Can You See Black Bears In America?


Black bears can be found in almost all states in the United States of America, but there are some that bears do not live anymore.  I wanted to find out where the best places in each state were to see bears and so put together this guide.

There are an estimated 300,000 black bears in the U.S. Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming have less than 1000 black bears each, while Alaska has about 100,000. Hawaii has no black bears.

If you want to find out the best place to see black bears in your state or in another state that you are visiting then please read on to find out where to go, the best time of year to go, and the best way to stay safe whilst viewing these great animals.

State  Population of American black bears
Alabama 300 to 1000 bears (source: aces.edu as of 2018)
Alaska 100,000 (according to Alaska department of fish and game)
Arizona 3,000 (source: tucson estimated in 2016)
Alaska 5,000 (source: uaex.edu estimated in 2017)
California 30,000 to 40,000 (source: wildlife.ca.gov in 2016)
Colorado 10,000 to 12,000 (source: coloradoan.com in 2015)
Connecticut 700 (source: courant.com in 2017)
Florida 4,000 (source: Wikipedia in 2015)
Georgia 2,200 (according to Georgia Public Broadcasting)
Indiana 15,000 to 19,000 (source: Indystar.com in 2015)
Kentucky Less than 500 (source: Researchgate.net in 2012)
Louisiana 56 (in 2009, according to WAFB)
Maine 35,000 (source: Maine Government in 2018)
Maryland 2,000 (source: Maryland DNR in 2019)
Massachusetts Near 5,000 (source: Mark Blazis in 2019)
Michigan 14,000 (source: Record-eagle in 2019)
Minnesota 12,000 to 15,000 (source: startribune.come in 2017)
Mississippi 200-250 (source: msbear.org)
Missouri 100-200 (source: pages.wustl.edu)
Montana 13,307 (source: fwp.mt.gov in 2011)
Nevada 300-400 (source: ndow.org)
New HampshireClose to 5,000 (source: concordmonitor.com in 2018)
New Jersey600 (tagged by Division of Fish and Game)
New Mexico8,000 to 9,000 (source: ruidosonews.com in 2016)
New York6,000 to 8,000 (cited by dec.ny.org)
North Carolina15,000 (source: ui.uncc.edu in 2014)
North DakotaA few (no quantity identified; cited by kenmarend.com in 2016)
Ohio 50-100 (source: ohiodnr.gov)
Oklahoma 148 (source: kjrh.com in 2018)
Oregon 25,000 to 30,000 (source: dfw.state.or.us in 2019)
Pennsylvania 20,000 (source: pgc.pa.gov)
Rhode Island 4,500 (source: providencejournal.com in 2018)
South Carolina20,000 (source: wect.com in 2018)
Tennessee 7,000 (source: fox17.com in 2018)
Texas 20-100 (source: yourconroenews.com in 2018)
Utah 3,500 (source: stgeorgeutah.com in 2016)
Vermont 5,700 (source: nps.gov)
Virginia 16,000 to 18,000 (source: roanoke.com in 2015)
Washington 25,000 (cited by westernwildlife.com)
Wisconsin 28,000 (source: dnr.wi.gov in 2019)
Wyoming 700 (source: npr.org in 2015)

Alabama 

Two groups of black bears can be found in Alabama.  There are a group of around 30 bears centered around Northeast Alabama around Cherokee, DeKalb and Etowah Counties.  

These bears are believed to have come from Northwest Georgia.

The second group is a larger group of 85 bears, and these are in Mobile and Washington counties in Southwest Alabama.  

There have also been other sightings around the State, indicating that populations are rising.  

Alaska

There are an estimated 100,000 black bears in Alaska.  Black bears occur in most forested areas from high alpine regions to sea level depending on the season.  

On the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, North of the Brooks Range or the Seward Peninsula there are no black bears to be found.  

They are also not found on some of the larger islands of the Gulf of Alaska such as Montague, Hinchinbrook, Kodiak and others.  

They are also absent from the Alaska Peninsula of the Lake Iliamna area.  

In Southeast Alaska, black bears are present on most islands, except Admiralty, Chicago, Kruzof and Baranof.  Black bears occur all over the Southeastern mainland of Alaska.

Arizona

The black bear is the only type of bear in Arizona and has an estimated population of 2,500 – 3,000.  Most live in forested regions of the state, including forests outside Flagstaff and down to Sedona and Prescott.  They can also be found at Roosevelt Lake, the White Mountains and the Mongolian Rim.  

In the Southeast of Arizona, black bears are found in Mt. Graham, Santa Catalina, Rincon and Santa Rita mountains and the mountains outside Tucson.

Arkansas

Arkansas was once known as the bear state, but by the 1930s it was estimated that less than 50 black bears remained in the State.  

With the reintroduction of 254 black bears into Arkansas between 1958 and 1968 and regulated hunting and habitat improvement, the black bear population has risen to over 3,000 animals.

They can be found in three main places in Arkansas.  The Ozark Highlands and the Ouachita Mountains and National Forest house the largest populations of black bears in the State.  

The population of bears in the White River Basin is smaller and cut off from integrating with the other bears in the State.

California

With an estimated population of 35,000 bears in California currently, the population had increased significantly since 1982 when there were just 10,000 – 15,000 bears in the State.  There are two subspecies of black bears in California, the Northwestern black bear and the California black bear.

There are three subpopulations of black bear in California. Approximately half of the population of black bears in California reside in the North Coast/Cascade region and occur North and West of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  

The Sierra Nevada bears live in the Sierra Floristic Province extending from Plumas County South to Kern County.  There are two National Parks in this region, and over two-thirds of the habitat is cared for by the U.S. Forest Service. 

The third subpopulation extends from Santa Cruz County south and east to San Diego County.  It is estimated that less than 10 percent of the California black bear population inhabits this region.  

Colorado

There are an estimated 19,000 black bears in Colorado, up from an estimated 12,000 in the early 2000s.  

Black bears can be found residing throughout the Rocky Mountain National Park, State Forest State Park and along the San Juan skyway.

Connecticut

The black bear is rare throughout most of Connecticut but can be found in Hartford and Lichfield Counties which are in the Northwestern and North Central areas.  

Black bears have also been seen as far South as Greenwich.  There are an estimated 1200-1500 black bears in the State.  There were over 6000 reported sightings in 2016 from 140 of the States 169 towns.

Delaware

There are very few black bears living in Delaware with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife not mentioning them on their website.  There have been a few sightings in the State, including in New Castle County and along the Delaware water gap.

Florida

Approximately 4,050 black bears are living in Florida, and they have been seen in nearly every part of Florida ranging from the West Panhandle to the North, through the big bend and down to the South.

They are most prevalent in Ocala National Forest, Apalachicola National Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve, Eglin Air Force base, and Osceola National Forest.  There are smaller populations between 20-40 bears that live in the Chassahowitzka NWR.  

Georgia

Depending on the time of year, the black bear will range over the entire state in search of food or their territory.  They have been seen in three regions; North Georgia mountains, in/around the Okefenokee Swamp in the Southeast and along the Ocmulgee River drainage in Central Georgia.  There are approximately 5,100 black bears with about 400 in the Central region.

Hawaii

There are no wild black bears anywhere in any of the Hawaiian Islands.  

Idaho

There are approximately 20,000 black bears in the State of Idaho.  Their habitat range mostly North of the Snake River plain over 30,000 square miles.  Due to the lack of food in Idaho, their habitat has to be larger than most States.

Illinois

Black bears were once common in the state of Illinois but have been eliminated from the state since the 1800s. Presently, this species of bears are protected by Illinois wildlife conservatory under the Animal protection act of 2015. 

There are no ample population of Black bears in Illinois, but there is a good potential of migratory bears from the neighbouring states of Wisconsin and Missouri to travel into the state. 

Indiana

Black bears are rare in the state of Indiana and most of the time migrating through the state.

They were reported to have been seen in 1871 and again in the year 2015. 

The rarity of the black bear in Indiana can be attributed to degradation, which terminated them from the state by the year 1850. 

According to reports from the Department of Natural Resource Biologist in Indiana, there are currently no black bears in the state.  

Iowa

Before the 1900s, Blacks bears were prevalent in the state of Iowa.  The black bear was often considered to be a pest by society which caused the total termination by hunters and agricultural practices.

In the late 1800s, black bears were extirpated from Kansas. In recent years, there have been no sightings of these animals. 

Kansas

In the early 2000s, there was documentation of black bears during spring in southwestern Kansas.

Kentucky

These bears feasted on spring wheat, they were believed to have come into the state from New Mexico or Colorado.

There are an estimated 500 black bears in the state of Kentucky.   

Louisiana

With Texas to the west, Mississippi to the east, Arkansas to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the South, Louisiana is similar in that not many black bears live there.

Black bears are found mainly along the Atchafalaya River Basin and the Mississippi River Valley. Under the 1992-2016 U.S. Endangered Species Act, the black bear was classified as “threatened”. Tenses subpopulation data revealed that there were 300 bears available in Louisiana between 2006 to 2008.

Maine

Although Maine is the 12th smallest state, there are several thousand black bears in Maine.  They are mostly found in the north and Eastern part of the state. In the central and southern regions, they are rare.

In the 1970s, the popularity of bear hunting increased.  In 1979, an estimated six to nine thousand bears were stated as the population in the state in 1979.

In 1984, a total of  18,000 bears was estimated. A year later, the population increased to 21,000 bears.

By 1998, there were estimated to be 22,000-23,000 bears in Maine. 

Maryland

The state shares border with Virginia, Delaware, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Black bears can be found in Frederick, Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties of Maryland. The population size of the black bear was estimated in the year 2000.  The estimate was estimated at 2000 subadult and adult bears.  

Massachusetts

There has been a high population of black bears in Massachusetts since the  1970s. Blacks bear present in the state is over 4,500.

If you are unsure how to spot the difference between a male and female beer, I have written an article here.

Michigan

Michigan is the tenth most populous state in the US. In the northern part of Michigan, about 15,000 – 19,000 black bears are seen roaming the conifer and hardwood forest.

In Michigan, bears enter into their dens by December and come out of dens early April. 

They leave their dens for only a short period when disturbed.

Currently, the population of adult black bears in Michigan is estimated at 14,000. The upper peninsula has almost 11,000 black bears while the northern lower Peninsula has 3,000 black bears.

Minnesota

The population of black bears in Minnesota is between 12,000-15,000. 

Due to the large populations, every year, Minnesota hunters harvest almost 3,000 black bears. 

Hunting license sales for bears are usually restricted to maintain the population size of bears in the state.

Bears are found mainly in the Northern forested areas.  Some bears are in Washington and Anoka counties which make up the northern and eastern parts of the state.  However, they can be found in the southern, western and northern part of the state, with bears being drawn to the South by farm crops.

In urban areas, it is not easy to see to see wild bears. However, bears have been seen in Hudson, Maplewood, Woodbury and along the St. Croix River.

Mississippi

In Mississippi, most of the bears are found along the Pearl, Pascagoula and Mississippi river drainages. 

Years ago, there was a vast population of black bears in Mississippi. However, only 200-250 black bears present in the state currently.

Missouri

There are 100 to 200 black bears currently present in Missouri. You can find most of the black bears on the South of the Missouri River although a few bears could be found in the northern counties.  The black bear is the largest wild mammal in the state. 

Montana

Surrounded by twenty-six thousand bears in Canada, of which fifteen thousand bears live in British Columbia and seven hundred bears in Alberta, Montana gets a lot of migratory bears through the state.  The Canadian bears possess the ability to inject their gene flow into the population in Montana.

You will find bears in the Glacier and Yellowstone national park areas.

Nebraska

There are no recent records of black bears in the Eastern part of Nebraska. However, there have been reports of black bears in the north-central area, upper Loup River and Niobrara river region a few years ago. In 2008, bears were sighted five times by Iowa wildlife officials.

Nevada

Black bears are restricted to a small area in the state. These bears are found near Lake Tahoe and Reno, while others are at the state’s western edge.

The black bear population size in Nevada is estimated by the Nevada Department of Wildlife to be between three to four hundred individuals. 

New Hampshire 

About 4,800 – 5000 bears are currently in New Hampshire. The black bears in this state hibernate in late October to early December and emerge in late March to early April.

Black bears are the only bear species in this state.

New Jersey

Black bears are found in ten counties in New Jersey.  The population size for bears is almost 5000. Their habitat includes wetlands and luscious forests including oaks, beech and maple. An excellent habitat for these bears are the lands surrounding the city.

After emerging from their den during spring, they feed on grasses and other succulent plants.

New Mexico 

The black bear is the state mammal of New Mexico and their population is estimated at 5000-6000. They are found in open grasslands and forests, and can be found in almost all forested areas.

New York 

The population of black bears in New York is 6000-8000. 50-60% of black bears are found in the Adirondacks, 30-35% are present in Catskills while the remaining 10-15% in central/western New York. The highest population of black bears is on the Catskill Mountains. 

North Carolina

In the mountains and coastal regions, black bears are highly populated. They are also common in Piedmont.

Many years ago, black bears lived in almost all the forested areas of North Carolina. However, these bears were often killed by early settlers to protect their families, livestock and crops.

Habitat loss from clear-cutting and agricultural development also affected these bears. In the mid-1900s, bears could only be found in the coastal swamps and remote mountains. 

The bear population suffered in the 1920s, a fungus which killed trees destroyed a very vital nut-producing tree, when it hit the mountain region.

Currently, there are 20,000 bears in North Carolina. Virginia pilot of Norfolk revealed in one of their recent articles that black bears in the state are growing in density.

North Dakota

In recent years, black bears have been sighted in North Dakota. In July 2018, there was a black bear who strolled into North Dakota from another US state; it was later photographed leaning on the truck of a local.

Ohio

The population of black bears in Ohio is 50-100. Black bears reside in the eastern half of Ohio. Black bear in the state has dramatically increased since the Division of Wildlife began the tracking of sightings in 1993.

Oklahoma

In southeast Oklahoma, you would find the largest population of black bears. There is currently no accurate estimation of black bears in the state.

Oregon

The population of black bears in Oregon is estimated between 25,000-30,000. Black bears are the only species of bears found in Oregon.

You can find black bears in the west to Pacific ocean, the cascade range and Wallowa mountains.

Pennsylvania

Black bears reside in large forested areas in Pennsylvania. Their population size in the state is estimated at 20,000. 

Black bears have been seen in all counties in Pennsylvania.  Counties in the Northeastern and Northern regions have the largest amount of bears.  Counties such as Philadelphia, Washington, York, Chester, Delaware, Fulton, Lancaster, Bucks and Beaver have very few black bears.

Black bears are getting more bold in Pennsylvania with suburban bear sightings on the rise.

Rhode Island

There are about 4,500 black bears in Rhode Island. Its population grows by ten percent every year.  The number of black bears in Rhode island increases almost in line with Connecticut.  Black bears are migrating from Connecticut to find a good source of food.

Black bears have been seen in Washington County, Kent County and Providence County.

South Carolina

In this state, black bears reside in the upper Piedmont, mountains and coastal plain.

Tennessee

Years ago, several black bears roamed the counties of Tennessee; however, after the European settlement, the number of black bears in the state reduced.

The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has played a significant role in the increased population of black bears in the state. 

In Tennessee, bears den in large hollow stumps or tree cavities most times. These black bears do not hibernate in winter; rather, they fall into a deep sleep. Females give birth to cubs, which come out with her during spring.

These cubs live with their mother for 18 months. 

Tennessee permits a bear hunting season because there has been a significant increase of bears in recent times.

Bear hunting in Tennessee runs from September to December. A hunter is allowed to hunt for a male bear. Female bears and cubs are not permitted to be killed.

Currently, the population of black bears in the state is 7,000.

Vermont

The black bear is the only species of bears found in this state. The population of black bears in Vermont is between 4,600 to 5,700.

People hardly see bears in Vermont because of their shy nature. Bears are rare in populated areas, however, at specific periods where the supply of natural food is low, bears may be attracted to garage and bird feeders which can result in a threat to human lives.

Hardwoods, vociferous trees and wetlands make the best habitat for black bears in Vermont. Bears prefer the wooded habitats to hide from danger.

Protection from hot weather is aided by the vociferous trees. Their vital feeding areas are oak, stands of beech and wetlands.

Black bears in Vermont have significantly increased due to better management and habitat improvement. 

The black bear management program in Vermont has a good monitoring process specially designed to ensure the black bears are healthy and continually mate in the future.

Their primary concerns include the production of acorns and beechnuts (foods that are vital to these animals).

There are four components of Vermont’s bear management program. They are:

Public education

Black bears habitat protection

Harvest regulation and utilization.

Animal damage and public issues response.

Virginia

Black bears reside in forested lands in Virginia. Bears can be found on the Alleghany Mountains, Blue Ridge and the Dismal Swamp.

The population of black bears in Virginia is 17,000, and they can be found in almost all the counties.

Washington

There are many black bears in Washington with the population estimated to be as high as 25,000.  They live in many diverse areas including the dry woodlands of the Cascades eastern slopes, coastal rainforests and forests.  There is a significant population in Kitsap County. 

They are not found in the non-forested habitats of the Columbia Basin.  Be careful when out hiking as there are grizzly bears in Washington too, with about a dozen residing in Washington in the Selkirk grizzly bear recovery zone.  Grizzlies have also been spotted approximately 50 miles West between the Columbia River near the Canadian border and Highway 395.

West Virginia

With the State animal of West Virginia being the black bears, it should be no surprise that black bears are found all over West Virginia in all 55 counties.  There are estimated to be around 8,000 black bears in West Virginia whereas less than two decades ago there were fewer than 500. There are no grizzlies in West Virginia.

Wisconsin

The population of black bears in Wisconsin is estimated at more than 28,000.  Bears are becoming more populous throughout the state although most bears are located in the far Northern third of the State.  

The lower two-thirds are becoming more populated with bears than ever before due to their population exploding.  Most sightings in the lower counties have been in Sauk, Iowa, Dane and Grant.  

Wyoming

Black bears inhabit forested mountainous regions in Wyoming with populations highest in Northwestern Wyoming.  There are small densities of black bears inhabiting the Laramie Peak, Sierra Madre, Snowy and Uintaite mountain regions of Southern Wyoming.  In Northern Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains contain a larger and more robust population.

If you would like further information on American black bears, I have written a complete guide. You can find the article here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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