BEAR recommendations and storage

We are headed to the Smoky Mountains for two weeks in October and will be camping in the national and state parks. I have so much information from the web but not sure what people really do. In the Smokey Mountain campgrounds, there are no bear boxes, you need to have a locked box or cooler and it needs to be kept in your car. They also recommend if you don’t have an enclosed trunk that you cover it because bears recognize food packaging. We have an SUV but with a cover over the back. You can be ticketed if a bear gets into your food and the bear might be killed by the rangers.

I’ve read that you need to remove anything from your camper that has been used to prepare food ever as well as any soaps, toothpaste or anything with scent. Do you do any cooking or eating in there at all? Should I plan on not even using the refrigerator even just for beverages? Is this going to be a week of sandwiches in the car? Do you keep the food etc in the camper when you are there and then transfer it to the car when you leave? I am thinking buy a fancy cooler and borrow one if possible. One a cold box and one a dry? I don’t want to overreact but I also want to keep us and the bears safe. Any tips are appreciated.

I also found this link to help me decide what to buy and to know it is certified.

btw, I searched here but it’s been 5 years since the last time this was covered and I didn’t really answer my question.

”violation of a NPS regulation constitutes a Class B federal misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 or by imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both,”
2019 Custom [email protected] 320 U Boondock Lite-ish
We slept in 34 states, 2 countries & counting.


  • tybladesmithtybladesmith Member Posts: 161
    Hi @ColleenD2, no suggestions about bears, just stopping by to say glad you are still [email protected]! We have always loved your Tab colors.
    Kay and Tom - SW Wisconsin - Silver [email protected] - 2018 [email protected] 320S Boondock Silver/Black trim TV, 2018 Chevy Colorado, Silver/Black trim, Duramax, TowHaul, IntelliHaul
  • Michigan_MikeMichigan_Mike Administrator Posts: 2,830
    I’ve camped in Smokey Mountain NP before and had no issues.  It boils down to common sense and eliminating food sources, being smart about disposing of your food remnants, trash, eliminating scent and doing the best you can.  It sounds like you have a good knowledge base and have read up on bear safety.  Bears can smell scent out about 1-2 miles so obviously if people dump bacon grease alongside their campsite it will raise the potential for luring them in.  Bears are common place in our National Parks, they coexist with humans and if people respect their habitat and keep food stored properly and follow the rules when in bear country than we can protect the animals.  I would recommend that you read the postings on the bulletin boards in the camping areas you visit.  Bear sightings and warnings will be posted there, speak with the rangers you see and they will provide you with up to date information and provide valuable tips.  I know that bears have broken into vehicles and in my many years of camping and exploring I have only had one bear encounter but it was because I used a cooler that was not bear proof.  Walmart sells coolers that are bear proof and as long as you store it safely inside your vehicle you will probably be good to go.   
    Howell, Mi
    2019 [email protected] 400
    2021 Chevy Silverado LTZ
  • Kevin_KKevin_K Member Posts: 6
    edited August 5
    I agree with Michigan_Mike, the best bet is to contact the rangers to get the direct information needed. Most of the times, a self contained camper is sufficient for bear proofing and is considered a vehicle. As long as you take every precaution possible (locking the trailer, closing windows, cleaning up, etc.) to prevent access, you typically won't run into any issues. We've been to many national parks that do have bear boxes, but never used them. I think they are more designed for tent camping (which we have used before getting our TAB 400) and trailers with any kind of soft siding (popup trailers)..
    But if you feel uncomfortable, getting the info from the park ranger directly will alleviate any misconceptions. We also plan on going to the Smokey Mountains one day. Hope you have fun!

    2021 Tab400 boondock, 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
  • Pretzel14Pretzel14 Member Posts: 9
    I camp a lot in West Virginia bear country and have a water only cooler with bear teeth holes on the lid.  Made it always a practice to cook and store everything food or trash wise away from sleeping areas, locked in vehicles at night or when we left camp.  I only have a little experience with the newer coolers that cost more than quite a few motor vehicles I had growing up , but I have children who like to see that  their dad (me) has nice gear to operate with.  So...., they went together and bought me the following cooler that happens to be on the list of bear certified products:

    RovR RollR, Portable Wheeled Camping Cooler (60 qt.) (Desert)

    It is pretty awesome.  A brand I wasn't familiar with.  Definitely a premium heavy duty cooler. Say heavy twice.   My only uses so far were a test week at uCamp (no bears) this June and the Outer Banks in July.  I only used it for beverages, and it spent a couple of hours each day in the direct sun.  I wanted to see how long it would keep ice.  Opening it maybe three times each day, after the initial load of drinks and ice on Sunday I added water bottles on Wednesday and I added a 10 pound bag ice on Thursday to the remaining ice and cold water and still had lots of ice the following Saturday.  Impressive. 

    As I said, I don't have personal experience with others, but I'm totally impressed with the engineering of this cooler.  Lockable.   Latches, hinges, lid, etc are all heavy duty, and seemingly impervious to bears.  Comes with a neat fold down tote bag that securely attaches to the lid.  Removable dry container that doubles as a cold sink for perishables.   A couple of things I really like are the oversized wheels and the accessory shelf (and heavy duty attachment points for it).

    The cooler is heavy to start with and with food and ice could be a formidable task to  load/unload from a vehicle.  But when the time comes, it will certainly outlast me and be passed on to a lucky recipient.  

    2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid -  2022 320s [email protected] Boondock "[email protected]"
    Keep your nose in the wind and your eye along the skyline.
  • TabneroTabnero Member Posts: 212
    you can do what backpackers do. In addition to all the precautions already mentioned you might try. 1. food that does not need to be refrigerated ie Tuna, canned meats, freeze dried backpacking meals. Cook on a stove away from your camper and clean up everything when you are finished, dump the trash at designated areas and always have bear spray with you on your person. Know how to use it
  • qhumberdqhumberd Member Posts: 333
    We have camped in the Great Smokys in tents and in campgrounds since the 1970s and bear encounters have become more frequent in the frontcountry areas of the park. I agree with the suggestions to limit food smells in the trailer and lock (bears can open many car doors) other items in the tow vehicle. Black bears have not been particularly aggressive unless they are food habituated and the rangers typically know the whereabouts of those critters. So asking the ranger at the campground is a good practice. The rangers will cite campers that do the dumb stuff and will not focus on those campers that are making a good faith effort to have a clean campsite. I have seen lots of instances of campsites in the park that were way out of compliance, and it is sad since as one ranger told me "A fed bear is a dead bear". Also we have never seen a need for bear spray in that region either, as most black bears will scoot away when you make yourself known, and then you withdraw as well.

    Fall is a wonderful time to visit so enjoy!

    2019  [email protected] Boondock Lite "Todd"

    2016 Toyota Tundra 5.7 Crew Cab
  • berggerbergger Member Posts: 592
    I can’t see the campground asking you to remove all scents from your trailer. Where would it go with no bear boxes available? Putting it in the car is no better than keeping it in the trailer. As mentioned above a trailer is usually considered the same as a vehicle. Just keep a sanitized campsite. That’s what we had to do and is required In Glacier NP. That means if tent camping  all food and coolers put in the provided bear boxes or vehicle and if trailer camping kept in the trailer.  And absolutely nothing left out in an unattended camp that has an odor, ie grills, candles, or anything. If anything is left out it is confiscated and you must answer to the park ranger to get it back.  Really nothing but chairs could be left out. 

    With no bear boxes provided where you’re going just lock it all up in the trailer, and in your fridge. Wash all dishes prior to leaving camp and put everything away once clean. You can also used tupper ware containers for dry goods that are kept in the cabinets. Just be cautious and diligent and you should be fine.  And don’t leave trash in the trailer. Toss it every time you leave camp or before going to bed at night. 
    2021 [email protected] 400 BD  "Vixen Gail" 
    2018 Nissan Titan Pro 4X "Big Bird"
    Leadville Colorado
  • dragonsdoflydragonsdofly Member Posts: 1,737
    The purpose of putting foodstuffs in your vehicle per park regulations is to give the humans a margin of safety. If a bear is hungry enough to rip doors off or break windows out, it is by far better that the bear ransack the vehicle. It is replaceable. If that same hungry bear decides to enter your camper, it will, whether you are in it or not. That is why you are instructed to put your foodstuffs in your car/truck. You have the possibility of remaining safe if the bear is attacking your vehicle and not ripping apart your camper while you are in it.
    We saw the remains of a horse trailer and talked to the shocked owners after a bear ripped it apart in Yellowstone National Park back in the 70's. The owners hauled the horses, mucked out the trailer and stayed at the lodge for a night. Apparently, a horse dropped a tiny bit of apple while eating which was not removed by raking. Unbelievable, there were even bear paw prints up the collapsed sides of the trailer and across the crushed ceiling. What was still attached to the axles and frame looked like steel shredded wheat.
    If the recommendation is to put your food in your vehicle, do so and by no means leave it in the trailer where you are sleeping. Let the bear shred the tow vehicle and not you while in the camper.
    We want you all to continue [email protected] safely and not end up being bear hors d'oeuvres.
    2017 [email protected] sofitel([email protected])TV 2015 Silverado 2500hd(Behemoth). Wyandotte, Michigan.
    Draco dormiens numquam titilandus.
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