Brown bears are found in the northern regions of North America. Most populations are found throughout Alaska, but brown bears can also be found in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming.
Brown bears can be found in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Northern Asia, and Japan. There are about 200,000 brown bears worldwide, with 120,000 in Russia. There are around 55,000 brown bears in North America, with approximately 35,000 found in U.S. states and 20,000 in Canada.
The range of the brown bear is the widest of any species of bear in the world. They are found in localized populations in eastern and Western Europe, northern Asia, the Himalayan Mountains, and Japan. In North America, brown bears are found in western Canada, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Please read on if you want to know more about where to spot brown bears in North America.
Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Alaska?
The brown bear population in Alaska is around 30,000 individuals. This number makes up more than 95% of the U.S. brown bear population. In Alaska, brown bear populations are found in coastal and mountainous regions.
Brown bears in coastal areas are much larger due to the abundance of food in their territory. Brown bears in coastal regions like to feed on fatty salmon and berries. They also hunt for carcasses during winter, including large mammals like caribou, and they have also been observed catching and eating mussels and clams.
Brown bears living away from the coast are limited in their food choices. Plants make up a large part of what they eat, and approximately 80% of their diet will be vegetarian.
During spring and early summer, bears will feed on grasses and roots. Fall brings the growth of various berries, and during winter, bears may also search for carrion (dead animals) and occasionally hunt moose and caribou calves.
Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Idaho?
Idaho has the smallest population of brown bears in North America. About 100 years ago, they were almost eradicated from the state, but numbers have slowly increased over the last decade.
There are currently about one hundred brown bears in Idaho. They are found mainly in the east of the state, close to Yellowstone National Park, and also in areas of northern Idaho.
The population of brown bears in Idaho is much smaller than black bears. There are around 20,000 black bears in Idaho.
Because the population of brown bears remains low, the brown bear population is at risk, primarily due to hunting. In areas where bears frequently attack livestock, farmers may call on local hunters to try and remove the bears from their farmland.
Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Montana?
Montana has a healthier population of brown bears, with approximately 1800-2000 individuals. The population was once as high as 15,000, but various control measures and habitat deterioration have led to a substantial decline in brown bear numbers across Montana.
Since 1921, various management measures have been in place to protect the population of brown bears in the state.
Brown bears can be seen in Montana from March through to late September when they will begin to search for a suitable winter denning spot.
Montana has native populations of brown bears, but they also get a large number of migratory brown bears passing through from Canadian territories. This helps to increase the genetic diversity of the brown bear populations.
Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Washington?
There are estimated to be 500-600 brown bears in Washington, split between two populations. Most brown bears in Washington are the result of expansion from brown bear populations in neighboring Idaho or migration from British Colombia.
Brown bears are found along the Colombia river close to the Canadian border. A small population also lives in the Selkirk Grizzly Bear recovery zone.
Brown bears live in small areas due to road habitat fragmentation and human development. This makes it difficult for brown bears to find suitable mates or large areas for foraging.
Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Wyoming?
The populations of black bears and brown bears in Wyoming are almost identical, with approximately 600-800 individuals.
Wyoming has a Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, an area with sufficient habitat to support a recovered brown bear population. Almost all of the documented sightings of brown bears in Wyoming were from inside the recovery zone.
As the population of brown bears increases, the expectation is that more individuals will be found outside the recovery zone. The increase in brown bear numbers could mean an increase in bear-human conflict.
This includes bears hunting livestock or venturing into residential areas for food. Brown bears in areas where food is limited are more likely to be aggressive with humans.
While the brown bear population in Wyoming remains low, their numbers are slowly increasing, and they are no longer considered endangered in Wyoming.
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Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Canada?
The estimated brown bear population across the west and north of Canada is 20,000, which continues to grow. The brown bear population in Canada is thriving due to conservation measures and lower development.
Canada is a popular tourist destination for bear watchers. Brown bears can be found across western and northern Canada.
Between May and October, brown bears can be seen along the Bella Coola River in British Colombia. This coincides with the salmon spawning season and results in large gatherings of usually solitary bears.
The Cariboo and Chilcotin mountains are great places to spot brown bears, as is Glendale Cove in British Columbia. Bears can be seen here from early spring, but they are most active during September and October when the salmon run occurs along the Glendale River.
Canada is also home to the Great Bear Rainforest, a collection of islands, valleys, and coastal inlets stretching along the west coast from the Alaska Panhandle down to Knight Inlet in British Colombia. Brown bears can be found in many areas of the Rainforest and Nunavut, Alberta, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.
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Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Europe?
Most brown bears in Europe are found in Russia, with a population of about 120,000. Most bears are concentrated east of the Ural Mountains in the Siberian forests.
The mountain ranges of Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees in Spain are home to about 250 brown bears.
Romania has about 6,000 bears, making up 60% of Europe’s population, with most found in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.
Slovakia has a population of about 800 bears, with most living in the Tatras mountains. Slovenia has about 600 bears which can be found in the forests of the Notranjska and Kočevsko regions.
Bulgaria has about 1,200 bears, a number that is on the increase. Most brown bears can be found in the Central Balkans and the Central Rhodope.
Brown bears are also found in Greece, with two populations approximately 200km apart. These can be found in the Peristeri-Pindos mountain range and the Rodopi mountain complex.
Sweden has a large population of about 3,000 bears which can be found across central and northern areas.
Finland has about 1,500 bears found in the east and Lapland, but bears have been spotted in southern and western Finland. Kuhmo, a small town near the Russian border, is close to forests home to about 1,000 bears.
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Where Can You Find Brown Bears in Asia?
In Asia, brown bears are found primarily throughout Russia, with a population of about 120,000. They can be found in small areas down to the Middle East, including Iran, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kurdistan.
Brown bears are also found in the northeast and western China, in the remote forests of Heilongjiang province along the Russian Border, and in parts of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
The brown bear population in India’s Hemis National Park is growing, with the park providing protective habitats to help its population thrive.
Brown bears can also be found in North Korea, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
There are about 3,000 brown bears found on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Mt Meakan, and Lake Kussharo.
References and Further Reading
Researchgate – The status of bears in China
NCBI – Vital rates of two small populations of brown bears in Canada
Journal of mammalogy – Density and distribution of a brown bear population within the Caucasus
Researchgate – Population genetic parameters of brown bears in western Serbia
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.