Brown Bears in Sweden – the shy giant of the wilderness

Sweden’s vast forests and rolling mountains are home to a huge diversity of animals, few as elusive and mysterious as the Brown Bear, perhaps the most magical of Sweden’s Big Five predators and a timeless symbol of the wild.

What kind of bears are there in Sweden?

The bears which inhabit the forests and mountains of Sweden are Brown Bears, Ursus arctos. In the wild, a male can weigh as much as 350 kg and a female up to 240 kg.

Photo: Håkan Vargas/

Are there any polar bears in Sweden?

No! The nearest polar bears are in Spitsbergen in Norway, over 1000 miles north of Stockholm.

How many Brown Bears are there in Sweden?

The Brown Bear is a shy, secretive animal, and very rarely seen. Most Swedes, even those living in the areas most densely inhabited by bears, will go their whole lives without ever seeing one in the wild. Population estimates are therefore extremely difficult. However, there are a number of ongoing research projects aiming to better understand the Swedish Brown Bear and plan effectively for its conservation and management. A 2004 study by the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project put the Swedish population at somewhere between 1635 and 2840 individuals, with an annual rise in population of 4.7%.

Photo: Håkan Vargas/

Which parts of Sweden have Brown Bears?

Brown bears are widely distributed across the northern half of the country, with particular concentrations in certain areas. There is some evidence to suggest that their range is increasing. The Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project survey in 2004 yielded the following distribution data:


What do Brown Bears eat?

Brown bears are omnivorous – they eat a wide range of foods from berries to bees to voles. Brown Bears may also hunt and catch larger animals, including moose. In the summer, their main food consists of ants, which they dig up from the large anthills found in the forests. They also eat the roots, shoots and buds of a number of plants.

Photo: Håkan Vargas/

Do Swedish Brown Bears hibernate?

Yes. During the autumn, Brown Bears fatten up on the raspberries, crowberries, cloudberries and blueberries which carpet the Swedish forest floor in preparation for hibernation. A good year for berries is also a good year for bears! Once they have built up sufficient fat reserves to see them through the long cold winter ahead, they then collect moss and twigs to make their hibernation den, which may be in a disused anthill or perhaps a spot at the foot of a large fir tree.


When do Brown Bears have their cubs?

Brown Bear cubs are born in the den during the winter, in litters of 1-4. Though naked, blind and helpless when they are born (weighing just 300-400g), they grow quickly on a diet of rich milk and by the time they are 6 months old are ready to leave their mother and make a life for themselves.

Are Brown Bears hunted in Sweden?

In the past, bear hunting was common, but today the Brown Bear is a protected species in Sweden, though licences can be granted to hunt particular individuals.

What should I do if I meet a Brown Bear in Sweden?

That depends on where you are (and where the bear is!) when you see it. If you are in a car or other vehicle, then simply relax and count yourself incredibly lucky that you are enjoying a rare and privileged glimpse into the life of Sweden’s largest predator.

Photo: Håkan Vargas/

Bear cubs are irresistibly cute, but if you see a cub, resist the urge to approach it or try to take photos – the protective mother will be close by and may not understand your friendly intentions!

If you are camping in an area where there are bears, don’t leave food waste around your campsite. Bears have a keen sense of smell and it is important that Sweden’s bears remain shy and wild – associating the presence of humans with food would be catastrophic for Swedish bears and potentially dangerous for campers.

Photo: Håkan Vargas/

Brown Bears mate between May and June, and during this period bears are active both at night and during daylight hours. Young males are searching for females at this time and cover long distances in their search, while last year’s cubs are making their first independent forays into the world.

Young bears, like all young animals, are very curious creatures, and may not have learnt to be as wary of danger as adult bears. Make sure they notice you by talking loudly, and then slowly withdraw from the area.

There is a very slim chance you may meet a bear if you are out in the forest picking berries (as the bears love berries too!), though the chances are that they will have heard or smelt you and decided to leave long before you arrive. If not, once again, talk loudly to show your presence and leave the area slowly.

If you find a bear at rest or perhaps eating a kill, it is important that the bear does not perceive you as a threat to its food. Stand as tall as you can, speak loudly and retrace your steps slowly. Do not run.

Almost all dangerous incidents with bears happen with wounded animals (for example, when a hunter has accidentally encountered a bear whilst out hunting for elk and shot at the animal). Like any animal, fear and pain will make it aggressive. Contrary to the images in films, standing on hind legs is not an aggressive posture for a bear. It simply allows the bear to have a better view of the surroundings, and to confirm what their senses of smell and hearing have told them.

If the bear starts to come towards you, then it has perceived your presence as a threat. It may be protecting a cub, or perhaps a carcass nearby. Perhaps the bear had no opportunity to hide when you approached or has just emerged from its hibernation den. If you have a dog with you, the dog may have provoked the bear. Talk loudly and leave slowly, but do not hit or threaten the bear, and do not run.

Whatever the reason for the bear’s approach, an attack is unlikely – the bear is probably just “faking”. Confrontation for any wild animal is a dangerous thing, as it may result in fatal injury, and many animals, including bears, gorillas and elephants, employ this tactic of “fake” charges to avoid the need for a real fight.

In the very unlikely event that you are attacked by a bear, try to distract its attention away from the attack. Place an object (such as a rucksack or fishing equipment) between you and the animal. If this fails, lie down on the ground in a foetal position or face down on your stomach. Cover your neck with your hands and protect your head, and “play dead”. Making yourself as small as you can and behaving as passively as possible will help to persuade the bear that you are not a threat.

What Brown Bear signs can I look out for?

In some areas you have a good chance of seeing signs that bears are sharing the forest world with you. You may be lucky enough to see their tracks in mud or snow, or perhaps to see hair caught on fencing or scratch marks on a tree trunk.


There is no reason to be afraid of meeting a bear when you are out canoeing, hiking or wild camping in Sweden – the chances of encountering a Brown Bear in Sweden are extremely low. In the whole of Scandinavia, there have been only four known cases in the last 100 years where a human has been killed by a Brown Bear.


So make the most of the peace and tranquility of Swedish vast tracts of wilderness, and enjoy the uplifting sensation that you may be travelling through the homeland of one of the world’s most fascinating and much misunderstood creatures – the Brown Bear!

Best regards

The Nature Travels Team

Nature Travels does not currently offer any bear watching trips in Sweden however our Hiking in the Finnish-Russian Borderland tour offers an optional extra Bear-watching excursion available to book on some dates.

We also offer dedicated wildlife experiences giving you intimate encounters with two of Sweden’s other elusive forest dwellers, the wolf and the moose. For further details please see Moose and Beaver Safari plus Howling with Wolves.


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