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Does Big Sur Have Bears, Mountain Lions, & Snakes?

Before planning my trip to Big Sur, I wanted to know what kind of animals I might be on the lookout for while on the trails. So, I searched online for answers to see what kind of animals I might encounter and how to be prepared. Here’s what I found.

While black bears and mountain lions are uncommon in Big Sur, there have been sightings. For this reason, some people carry bear spray and hike in groups. However, rattlesnakes are the more common hazard. To prevent incidents with rattlesnakes, wear boots and long pants.

Keep reading for more information on hazardous animals in Big Sur.


Bear on a trail

Bear sightings are rare, but happen now and then in Big Sur. Although, sightings in Big Sur seem to be increasing in the past few years.

The bears that are being spotted are black bears, as grizzly bears are said to be extinct in the state of California.

Bears are typically most active in the spring and summer. They are mostly out roaming in the early morning and late evening.

I found no recorded bear attacks in the region of Big Sur.

To avoid an encounter with a bear, set aside anything that has a scent. Examples include food, food scraps, garbage, and medicine. If camping put these items in a closed vehicle or a bear container.

You can leave garbage bags tied to high tree branches (at least 10 feet from the ground and more than one hundred yards from your campsite).

If you do encounter a black bear, here’s what to do:

  1. Slowly and calmly back away while carefully watching the bear
  2. If the bear gets closer, shout loudly
  3. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
  4. Act aggressively (raise arms in the air)
  5. Throw rocks at the bear
  6. If you have bear spray, spray when the bear is less than 60 feet away
  7. Do not run away or play dead

Here’s a video on how to use the bear spray:

Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are found in Big Sur but sightings are rare. These huge cats are most active between dusk and dawn.

From what I found, there has never been a fatal mountain lion attack in Big Sur. There have only been 3 fatal attacks in California in the past 40 years, all in different counties.

Trails with dense underbrush should be hiked with caution, as this is typically where mountain lions mostly spend their time.

If you do encounter a mountain lion, the safety tips are similar to if you come into contact with a black bear. Slowly back away, make yourself appear large, avoid hiking alone, and make loud noises. Also, bear spray works on mountain lions.


rattlesnake on a trail

Rattlesnakes are the main venomous snake to look out for in Big Sur. While there are many different types of rattlesnakes, most have a triangle-shaped head, diamonds on the back, and an apparent rattle.

To identify venomous snakes in general, most have a triangle-shaped head and pupils with slits. When looking at color, if red touches yellow, the snake is venomous.

Rattlesnakes are most active in the summer, or on hot, sunny days. Being from Texas, all of the times I have encountered a rattlesnake was in the middle of the day, right in the center of trails.

The best way to avoid rattlesnakes is just to be on the lookout while hiking. You can also wear long pants and boots as extra precautions.

Do not approach a snake. If the snake is in your path, walk far back until it has moved along.

If a rattlesnake does bite you, stay calm, call 9-1-1, keep the bitten area below the heart, and sterilize the infected area. To learn more about what to do if bitten by a rattlesnake while out in nature, visit this article.


Big Sur is the second worst location in Central California for tick bites.

Ticks are most commonly found outdoors in high grass or overgrown brush (most common after rain). Ticks embed themselves in warm-blooded animals.

Ticks are most active in the spring and summer, with February through April being the highest points. However, due to the warm climate, ticks can be found year-round.

The best things to do when outdoors in these areas are to check yourself often and seek medical attention if you find a tick has embedded itself in you. For dogs, you can use a lint roller on their fur after a hike to check for any ticks.

What Other Animals Are in Big Sur?

Elephant seals are also very popular for wildlife viewing in Big Sur. Elephant seals are no ordinary seals, these guys are massive. These seals are most active from October through May and the best place to see them is at The Piedras Blancas Rookery, five miles north of Hearst Castle.

Whales are some of the most common animals in Big Sur for wildlife viewing. Winter months in Big Sur are known for huge pods of migrating gray whales. You can also find blue and humpback whales in this area. December through May are the best months to whale watch. Some whale watching places in the Big Sur area include Monterey Bay Whale Watch and Blue Ocean Whale Watching.

Bring your binoculars. Big Sur has a reputation for being home to many different kinds of beautiful birds. Most people seek birds out at The Big Sur Lodge, as well as Big Sur Andrew Molera State Park. I even found a cool-looking one on the trail to McWay Falls.

Bird in big sur
The bird I saw in Big Sur. I have no clue what kind it is, so let me know if you’re a bird enthusiast!

What To Pack

  • Bear Spray
  • Bear Canister
  • First Aid Kit
  • Insect Spray

Bear spray can be used during a life-or-death situation if you come into contact with either a bear or a mountain lion.

Many campers in bear country choose to bring a bear container to stash their food and other scented items away. Here’s a good example of a bear canister I found last time I went to REI.

First aid kits are almost crucial for camping and backpacking trips. They can be useful after a fall or even a snake bite.

Insect spray is protection from mosquito and tick bites!