Bear canisters are now required in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Most bears living in the forests along the PCT are not as habituated as those found in Yosemite and some areas in the Southern Sierra. That may be changing in some places; it definitely has changed in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

In 2016, a bear around Twin Lakes — a common camping spot for PCT hikers — began raiding people’s food stores. The reward of getting campers food only reinforced the bear’s behavior.

Please see our main page on bear canister requirements and protecting your food.

This bear was savvy — park staff received reports of the bear climbing trees to get hanging food bags. It would chew through the lines and jump from branches to grab the bags. Now, let’s be real: most food hangs are far from the recommended 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the tree’s trunk, and 6 feet below the supporting limb. But even with a savvy bear like this, a perfect hang may not protect your food. One hiker reported leaving his food unattended for only a few minutes while he took a dip in the lake, but the bear made off with it.

Bear canisters set out for the night away from camp. Photo by Martin Christian

Bear canisters set out for the night away from camp. Photo by Martin Christian

To protect this specific bear, the safety and wellbeing of backcountry campers (including all of us who are on the PCT) and to discourage other bears from learning aggressive behaviors, Lassen Volcanic National Park instituted a bear canister requirement. Information about the requirement and the list of allowed food storage containers can be found here:

So, how will this affect all of us on the PCT?  You’ll need to carry a canister. With proper planning, you can be sure to comply with the new requirement and more importantly, protect the wilderness and wildlife along the trail.

We suggest the following approaches

Carry a canister whenever you are in bear country

I am not a thru-hiker, but I have taken many long walks (up to a month) traveling on and off trail deep in wilderness and the backcountry. I used to loathe carrying bear canisters; the requirement made me downright angry because I felt that I was great at hanging my food (or protecting it by sleeping with it). Okay, so I was pretty darn good at hanging my food, but let’s be real, most hangs are sub-par, and at this point, nothing does a better job at keeping food from bears and other critters than a proven, rugged food container.  It is for the benefit of the wildlife and the ease of not having to hang food late in the day (or night) that I now regularly carry a canister. I encourage everyone to consider this approach!

People heading northbound, pick up your bear canister in Chester, Calif

  1. Most people stop in Chester to resupply, take a zero day, etc. After the Sierra (or anywhere for that matter), mail your canister to Chester (address it with: YOUR NAME c/o General Delivery, Chester, CA 96020), so you have it for traveling through the park. You’ll need to carry a canister from Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass, so mail it north from Bridgeport or South Lake Tahoe.
  2. Your canister can then be mailed back from Old Station or Burney Falls State Park.

Skip the bear can by not camping in the backcountry. Stay in the Warner Valley campground instead.

  1. Plan your day accordingly to camp in the Warner Valley developed campground. The PCT crosses the park for 19 miles. The Warner Valley campground (mile 1347) is about three miles north of the southern border (mile 1344).
  2. Take advantage of the bear boxes, toilets, etc.
  3. It will then be feasible for most folks to travel the 16 miles from Warner Valley to the northern boundary of Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1363) the following day. Realistically, there is no camp spot at the northern boundary. You’ll need to hike even further to find a place to camp.

We are working with the park and Lassen National Forest staff to figure out whether or not it might be feasible to set up a canister rental program. Meanwhile, please remember it is incumbent upon all of us to travel lightly along the PCT to protect the trail and the trail experience for those who follow. It is my truest hope that the PCT continues to provide wild, scenic and spectacular experiences for generations to come.

Author: Justin Kooyman

Justin Kooyman is PCTA’s Associate Director of Trail Operations. He works on trail protection and management projects out of our Northern Sierra regional office in Portola, CA. When not working, Justin can be found exploring the Northern Sierra, especially looking for uncommon birds in Plumas County.