Bears, fire, and the law: Etiquette for cannabis and the outdoors

Cannabis and the outdoors: Photo of a black bear peering over bushes.

A few years ago, a bear, nicknamed Cheeseburger by local budtenders, broke into a Colorado cannabis dispensary after closing. Cheeseburger was captured on security video attempting to get into a bear-proof dumpster before rolling the whole container of discarded cannabis accouterment out the back gate.

Since bears have an excellent sense of smell, many assumed that Cheeseburger was attracted to the dumpster because of the cannabis aroma. After this video made the rounds, many who enjoy cannabis and the outdoors asked themselves, “Does cannabis attract bears?.”

If cannabis does attract bears, backpackers, campers, and hikers should take extra precautions on the trail. And if we should take extra bear precautions, what other outdoor cannabis etiquette should we follow in open nature? Let’s explore the nuance of bringing weed into the wild.

Do bears smell weed?

Many articles explore the nuance of bears’ attraction to cannabis, and a few more about bears eating people’s edibles, but we haven’t found any concrete data on the matter. Many string together the fact that cannabis is aromatic and bears hunt using their smell–so yes, bears can catch the scent of cannabis, and it’s possible it will draw them to stalk a hiker or campsite.

These conclusions are theoretical but do raise the point that to be safe, when going to nature, pack cannabis in smell-proof containers, and while you sleep, secure it in your bear bag or hard-sided canister with your food.

Legality is iffy in most outdoor locations

The last consideration for today is to consider the legality of cannabis consumption on the lands you’re exploring. The National Parks, a federal agency, run many public hiking and camping spaces. Due to federal oversight in land management, cannabis possession and consumption remain illegal in these spaces. In addition, many states with regulated adult-use have laws against public consumption. So, always check the rules and regulations before including weed in your pack to avoid a ticket or arrest.

Respect fellow outdoor enthusiasts

Lighting up in a natural landscape can deepen your connection to nature, but not everyone on the trail uses cannabis to do this. Some prefer a smoke-free excursion–so be respectful. Don’t blow plumes of smoke on-trail that will infringe on the airspace of other hikers, and don’t turn your campsite into a smoking lounge either.

If you’re in a busy area and getting space to smoke isn’t happening, going off trail is not an option, “leave no trace” means not disturbing the natural ecosystem. Respecting nature and fellow outdoor enthusiasts sometimes means a delayed sesh until you have the space to light up.

Fire safety first!

Though we mentioned lighting up, the wisest way to consume cannabis in nature is fire-less methods like dry herb vapes, vape pens, and edibles–especially during fire season. One errant cherry or strong gust of wind can turn a simple joint into a devastating forest fire, so be safe and leave the lighter at home.

In addition, always check the fire warning for the park you visit. This information will be available online and often on signage upon entering the park.

From bears to fires, bringing cannabis flower into the great outdoors can have unfavorable outcomes. If you are in a place where you can legally enjoy cannabis on a hike or while camping– follow this advice to ensure you’re respecting the land, your fellow outdoor enthusiasts, and your neighborhood bears.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.