Black Bear or Grizzly? Helpful guide to the big differences.

Some helpful hints to help you identify which species is which.

Grizzly Bear

There are a few things that we know are true about all bears - they are clever, they are curious and they love to eat. As similar as bears can be, here in Alberta we have two different species of bears that are actually quite different.

If you and your family are planning to spend time Alberta’s forests, mountains or backcountry, it is important that you can determine the difference between a grizzly bear and a black bear.

Most people think that grizzlies are brown and black bears are black, but these species can actually both be black, blue-black, dark brown, brown or cinnamon in colour. Both species are also fast runners, great swimmers and can climb trees. Since colour alone is not a good way to determine the  species, here are a few ways to tell them apart:

Grizzly bear

Black bear


Normally bigger.

Often smaller.


General body shape

Have a shoulder hump made from large muscles that allow grizzlies to be strong diggers.

Have a large rump. When the bear is standing on level ground, the hindquarters will be the highest part of its back.


Long, light-coloured and straight.

Short, dark-coloured and curved.


Small and round.

Large and pointy.

Facial profile

Concave or dished.

Flatter or Roman-nose profile.


Toe pads form a straight line and leave claw imprints two to three inches in front of the two pads.

Toe pads form an arc and leave little to no claw imprints.

When you are determining what type of bear you are looking at, always look for a combination of all of the bear’s features to determine the species.

Stay tuned to the AIP blog for our upcoming post regarding bear safety and what to do if you encounter a bear this year.