In a sure sign that spring is near, Parks Canada says the first grizzly bear of the season was seen coming out of winter hibernation.

The bear, most likely a male, was spotted by a conservation officer on Sunday in Massive Siding along the Bow Valley Parkway, west of Banff.

“Time to dust off one's 'bear smarts' and remember that even if there is snow on the ground, bears are beginning to wake from their long winter's nap,” said Parks Canada spokeswoman Michelle Macullo.

Large males are usually the first to come out of their dens — as early as mid-March and into early April — while females with cubs tend to be the last to appear, typically by mid-May, Macullo said.

With lots of snow still covering the mountains, the early-rising bears look for food down in the valley bottoms.

Massive Siding is part of a section of the eastern Bow Valley Parkway covered by a seasonal travel restriction to protect wildlife.

 A 17-kilometre stretch of Highway 1A running from east of the Johnston Canyon campground to the parkway's east entrance at the Trans-Canada Highway is closed from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. MT from March 1 to June 25.

“This area is especially important in the spring when most of the park is still snowbound, as it provides species like grizzly bears and wolves with much needed food and a place to raise their young,” Macullo said.

Macullo offered several bear safety tips for people visiting the mountain parks:

  • Ensure pets are on a leash while out walking.
  • Travel in groups and make noise.
  • Have bear spray within reach and know how to use it.

“Knowing how to reduce an encounter before it happens is good for people and good for bears,” she said.

Anyone who sees a bear in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks is asked to call the 24-hour Banff dispatch line at 403-762-1470.