How Fast Can a Black Bear Run? The Answer Might Surprise You

Usain Bolt and a Black bear

Olympian Usain Bolt is fast, but even he cannot outrun a bear (photos by Petr Toman/ and Pedro/

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The year was 1980 and the Olympics dominated the news. 

The United States bested the heavily favored Russians in hockey and held on to claim the gold medal. 

It was the Miracle on Ice. 

And then, the U.S. boycotted the Summer Games in Moscow and many American athletes who’d worked their whole lives for that moment had to watch it go by. 

I was six and sports crazy. I didn’t understand the geopolitical ramifications of the U.S. boycott or when the Russians returned the favor in 1984.

But we got another Olympic-adjacent miracle in 1980. The animated classic “Animalympics” created a world in which Mother Nature’s most wondrous creations competed for Olympic glory. 

It was weird. Everything was weird in 1980, but this was especially so. 

There’s a long-distance running vignette in which Rene Fromage – a French goat – competes against Kit Mambo, an uncomfortably attractive African Lion. And during the course of the race, the two fall in love and cross the finish line hand in hand. 

There’s also an alligator named Bolt Jenkins inspired to set records in the high jump, pole vault and a 100-meter dash.

Yes, I said 100-meter dash. 

Since we didn’t have things like phones or computers to keep our minds interested, we had ample opportunities to let our minds wander. 

Which animals would really win an “Animalympics” was a question I spent far too much of my life pondering before coming to the following conclusion. I don’t think Bolt would have pulled it off. 

Alligators are too fast for my liking in general. But on dry land, there are simply too many others who can outrun a gator.

Plus gators run in a zig-zag pattern, swishing their tails as they go. There’s simply no way a gator maintains lane integrity on a standard Olympic track. 

Friends, I fear “Animalympics” sacrificed Kens Burn documentary-style realism and ventured into sensationalism. 

But it did one other important thing. It got me thinking about the disturbing number of large scary animals that Mother Nature blessed with some level of speed. 

Hippos – for instance – are Africa’s deadliest animal and despite their size can move in the water. They’re terrifying. 

Read Also: When do bears hibernate in Tennessee? Answer: Some never do, here’s why

A black baer
Black bears can reach speeds of up to 35 miles (or 56 kilometers) an hour (photo by troutnut/

How fast can a black bear run?

But John, just how fast can a bear run?

I’m glad you asked. 

Closer to home, the black bears of the Smokies can – despite their lumbering appearance – run like the wind.

Under the fat, you see, a bear actually has a layer of muscle.

Certainly, given the chance, a Tennessee black bear would have straight whipped Bolt Jenkins in the 100-yard dash – and I think the pole vault as well. 

How’s a gator gonna pole vault with them little arms? It’s like taking a T-Rex in a boxing match – but I digress. 

Despite their size and appearance, black bears are quick and agile when they want to be. Females, for example, have been clocked at high speeds protecting their cubs.

Scientists say American black bears can sprint up to 35 miles (or 56 kilometers) an hour and climb 100 feet up a tree in seconds.

And for fun, here are a few frequently asked questions about how fast bears can run we found on the internet.

Olympian Usain Bolt
Olympian Usain Bolt can reach speeds of up to 27 mph, but even he cannot outrun a black bear (photo by Petr Toman/

Can Usain Bolt outrun a bear?

Ha ha ha. No. No way.

World record holder Usain Bolt’s top speed in a straight line on a track is about 27 miles an hour.

Usain Bolt, the fastest human on the planet, had better hope for a decent head start if a bear is chasing him.

Can you outrun a bear downhill?

What? No.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down.

If you’re going to race a bear – which nobody on Earth thinks is a good idea – do not race it going down hills.

Some dogs might be able to outrun a black bear, but don’t test the theory (photo by oto Zlatko/

Can a dog outrun a bear?

Now we’re talking. The answer is a definitive maybe.

It depends on the breed, age and relative health of your dog. In any condition, don’t test your theory.

Many species of dogs in their prime can theoretically keep up with a bear. Especially over longer distances, dogs will have an advantage. Bear hunters will use multiple dogs to pursue and tree bears, so it seems logical that they can keep pace. 

But while some dogs are built with the necessary speed, they may lack the necessary instinct.

When I was a kid, we had a whippet, a racing-type dog, named Petal Flower Pup Gullion. We took her hiking and at one point ended up with Petal up on a cliff with half our group and the rest 20-30 feet down below near the river. 

Petal decided to come down. Not by taking the trail, but by climbing the relative sheer cliff face.

She quickly found herself stuck on a small ledge still very high up in the air. She surveyed her surroundings and without developing a landing strategy, leaped toward my dad’s friend who was only known as Nelson. 

Nelson looked up at this incredibly stupid dog and heroically decided not to jump out of the way and let her greet the Earth with her face. He put his arms up, and using her forward momentum, launched her another 8 feet or so safely into the water. 

It remains – more than 40 years later – the single dumbest thing I’ve ever seen a man or beast do, and I watched every game of the Jeremy Pruitt era at Tennessee. 

Anyway, while your dog may be able to outrun a bear, it would need to be more than fast. 

Read Also: Three cubs in a tub: Young bears surprise cabin guests in Gatlinburg

A black bear cub
Bears can also climb 100 feet up a tree in seconds (photo by Eric/

Can a human outrun a black bear?

No, a human can not outrun a bear. In fact, humans can run fastest at short distances.

A here’s a quick caveat. Do NOT try to run from a bear. Bears will likely chase anything that runs from them.

“If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground,” the NPS says.

“Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.”

If you encounter a bear, the NPS recommends staying exceptionally chill and introduce yourself to the bear.

Remember to not feed the bears or offer access to food or garbage.

What do you do if you see a black bear?

Now that you know you can’t outrun a bear, here’s what you should do instead of running:

Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal.

Also, remain still. Stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening, according to the NPS.

Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second.

Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back.

When possible, establish eye contact. Remember, a scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.

Read Also: What to do if you see a black bear: These 3 tips might surprise you

A black bear in the Smoky Mountains
Despite popular belief, you should never play dead if you see a black bear (photo by bettys4240/

Should you play dead if you see a black bear?

Playing dead apparently works for other bear species such as brown bears or grizzly bears. However, it doesn’t work on black bears

So, if you’re actually attacked by a black bear, the NPS recommends going ham and kicking that bear’s arse. 

Remember that this scenario is very unlikely as long as you follow the steps mentioned above.

“Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available,” according to the NPS.

If you find yourself fighting a black bear, the NPS does not recommend working the midsection with a flurry of jabs to soften it up. You gotta find the soft spots and go for the face. 

Honestly, just carry some bear spray and make sure you point it in the right direction. 

Have you encountered a bear in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for LLC – the parent company of and

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