One thing is for sure, it’s not a question you want to ask with a grizzly bear on your tail. Grizzly bears, also known as brown bears, are massively powerful and just, well, massive. They can weigh up to 1.000 lbs and stand up to 10’ high on their hind legs but can a grizzly bear climb a tree?

Grizzly bears can climb trees and they can do so pretty quickly, although it won’t be the most graceful thing that you’ve ever witnessed. They lack the finesse and speed of a black bear, for instance, but they make up for it in claws, teeth, and sheer, physical will.

That’s not the best news for those who have made a career out of tree climbing. For the most part, grizzlies won’t bother climbing a tree, mostly because of their weight. If there is a tasty incentive, however, like a human being who thought they read in a magazine somewhere that grizzlies can’t climb trees, Pooh Bear will be more than happy to disillusion you.

If you ever encounter a grizzly bear out in the wilderness, please don’t run up the first tree that you find. A grizzly bear will be more than happy to spend the next week or so pooping you out all over its territory.

How does a grizzly bear climb a tree?

Younger grizzlies will climb a tree much in the same way as black bears, until they reach an age where they are just too heavy to shimmy up, using their powerful leg muscles to propel them upward, foot by foot.

As a grizzly bear reaches maturity, even the raw power of its legs will no longer be able to pull it up the tree. Grizzly bears aren’t stupid, however, and if there are low-hanging branches they will simply climb the tree the same way, you or I would, one branch at a time.

Since a grizzly bear can stand up to 10’ tall and has a mind-blowing, 2.8 meter reach, it’s rare that they will find a tree that has branches they can’t reach.

Young, strong grizzlies will be more than happy to chase a human up a tree. You might luck out and find yourself crossing paths with a veteran grizzly, who is much more likely to avoid climbing a tree, no matter how tasty you appear to be.

How do grizzly bears climb down trees?

That’s a little more difficult for a fully grown grizzly bear, however, they climb down the same way they climb up, one step at a time. On the downward journey, grizzly bears tend to take it a little more slowly.

Grizzly bears are a lot like tigers. They are the apex predators of their world; the biggest and the meanest animal for miles around. They’re also like tigers in that they both climb trees, albeit reluctantly, and are forced to descend much more cautiously.

Grizzlies, like tigers, will generally only climb a tree if there is a strong incentive to do so. Also like tigers, grizzlies don’t prefer trees because they are the apex predators in their respective environments and have no need to climb trees because they have no natural predators to chase them.

Can grizzly bear cubs climb trees?

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič / Unsplash

If you are ever confronted by an angry grizzly bear that wants to come after you, odds are, cubs are nearby and the mother grizzly views you as a threat. Going up the nearest tree is a bad idea because both the cubs and mama bear can climb the tree to get you if they want.

Grizzly cubs are phenomenal climbers, perhaps better even than black bears. They lack the weight of adult grizzlies and use their long, curved talons to dig into the bark and skin of the tree, pulling themselves upward.

This is another area in which grizzlies mirror tigers. Both tiger cubs and bear cubs will climb trees just for the pure fun of it. They’ll do it in their play with each other, out of curiosity, and to chase some smaller prey that has attracted their attention.

They’ll also do so to escape danger, even though mama grizzly can put down almost any threat.

Should you climb a tree if a grizzly is after you?

It’s difficult to say not to climb a tree, even though you definitely shouldn’t. Things change when there is a 1. 000 lbs grizzly after you and, in such a situation, your fight or flight mechanism will be shooting off fireworks inside your brain. Not only that, but you won’t have long to consider.

A grizzly’s top speed is 35mph, so you’re not going to have much time to decide whether running, laying down, or climbing a tree is the right choice. When it comes to grizzlies, they are the only bear species in which it is okay to lay down on your stomach, cover your head and neck, and lie still.

This behavior works well with a grizzly, at least statistically so. It’s an utter failure with black bears, as they will happily pounce on you whether they believe you’re alive or dead. Polar bears just don’t care and will absolutely wreck you, alive or dead, if your paths cross.

There’s a saying that lays out the choices that you have in a neat little rhythm. “If it’s brown lay down, when it’s black, fight back; if it’s white, good night.” Truer words were never spoken.

Can a grizzly bear push down a tree?

A grizzly bear is more than capable of pushing down trees, even large ones. It’s not likely that it could push down towering oaks but the raw power of the grizzly would surprise you. It has often been stated in witness accounts that grizzly bears have pushed down trees in pursuit of hikers.

Grizzlies are considered to be one of the most powerful mammals on the planet, with an equivalent strength to that of 6 grown, male athletes.

  • It can lift 80% of its own weight
  • Can lift a rock that weighs nearly 400 lbs (with one paw)
  • It can snap your spine with a swing of its arm
  • Its bite strength is 1.200 psi (yes, that means it can bite your head off)
  • It can bite through cast iron utensils
  • Stronger than a full-grown, male gorilla

It’s not just the raw strength of the grizzly bear that brings down the tree either, but the fact that they are able to throw nearly 1.000 lbs of body weight against the tree. It’s like being hit by a car, except it’s furry and full of teeth and claws.

Grizzly bears use trees as well

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič / Unsplash

Scientists have long been perplexed at why grizzly bears rub trees. For years, it was assumed that it was simply a territorial thing, with the grizzly marking trees that signified the boundaries of its territory.

Others assumed that it was the female grizzly bear that rubbed trees whenever she was in heat. The truth is somewhere in between. It’s not quite a territorial thing but a means of communication between grizzlies.

Apparently, it’s a method that grizzly males use to reduce the infighting between each other when they are seeking females to mate with. In a sense, they are marking territory but not insofar as it pertains to themselves.

Back in September of 2007, Dr. Owen Nevin produced a study that he had conducted by monitoring male grizzlies with a series of cameras that he set up somewhere out in bear country. The resulting footage led him to believe that younger males are basically selecting an already scented tree and rubbing themselves against it to make themselves smell more like the older, stronger male.

This allows them to encroach on the older male’s territory, fooling the older male into thinking that the younger male is part of the family because they smell the same. The younger male then waits for the older male to leave, then it moves in on the female.

If this is true, it’s quite the stroke of genius on the part of young, male grizzly bears. Of course, this kind of thinking amongst grizzly bears improves their odds of survival. If two male grizzly bears get into a fight over a female grizzly, the odds are not good that both grizzlies will come out of the fight alive.

So, although it is a territorial thing in a sense, most of the tree-rubbing that male grizzlies engage in is actually to avoid a fight while getting what they want through an act of both sabotage and deception. It’s something that is worthy of being the running plot of a novel.

Final thoughts

Grizzly bears can certainly climb a tree if they want to. Whether or not they do is wholly dependent on the level of incentive. While it’s great to think about all of the things that grizzly bears are capable of, you don’t want to be the person in that situation, giving the grizzly that incentive.

They can climb trees, knock them down, paw them in half, run over them in a full sprint, or even use them as an act of deceptive infiltration. In short, grizzly bears are truly amazing animals.