9 Safety Tips For Encountering Wildlife While Hiking

When hiking in the great outdoors, it is crucial to remember whose home you are stepping into: bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and an abundance of other wildlife. Encountering wildlife while hiking is almost a certainty, whether a flock of birds flying overhead or squirrels rustling in the trees. However, there are larger and deadlier predators that you must be both aware and cautious of while hiking. While animal attacks are highly uncommon, they are still possible and sometimes happen due to:

  • Not making enough noise.
  • Approaching or surprising an animal at close proximity, especially bears.
  • Getting close to an animal carcass or another food source.
  • Venturing off a trail or at dusk or night.
  • Startling a female bear with cubs.

Luckily, most trails are marked with warning signs so hikers are aware of potential wildlife they may encounter.

Rule #1 don’t stop to take photos!

Fear of wild animals doesn’t need to prohibit you from hiking a new trail. With the proper preparation and safety procedures, seeing a warning sign for potential mountain lion sightings may not even faze you.

I’ve outlined nine safety tips below that will help make a potential encounter with wildlife safer for you and your hiking companions.

9 Safety Tips For Encountering Wildlife While Hiking

  1. Be Loud: Usually being loud isn’t commended, however when it comes to hiking it is a must. Talk loudly, clap your hands, stomp your feet, make some noise to let wildlife know you are nearby. Shout often especially when traveling near streams, creeks and waterfalls, upwind, or when you cannot see the path ahead. Avoid hiking through thick brush. Bring a loud whistle with you and don’t be afraid to use it often.
  2. Don’t Take The Road Less Travelled: This is particularly advised for hikes where wildlife signs are posted. Stay on the marked trail for not only your safety, but to protect the surrounding habitat.
  3. Keep A Watchful Eye: Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch for signs of large animals such as tracks, droppings, rocks rolled over, scratch marks on trees and logs torn apart. Scan ahead periodically and keep a watchful eye on children. Rattlesnakes can often be heard from a distance. Wait for rattlesnakes to pass before proceeding forward on the trail.
  4. Keep Strong Odors Away: Leave foods and beverages with strong odors at home. Avoid wearing scented lotions, perfumes, scented deodorants and other odorous items at home. Bears and other animals have a strong sense of smell and can detect odors from far distances. Dry foods are not only lighter, but also have a fainter odor.
  5. Make A Travel Plan: Make a detailed itinerary of your day and keep this itinerary with a close friend or family member. Let them know when you plan to depart and when you plan to return home. If cell phone service is available, keep in touch with your contact throughout the day – periodically providing them with updates on where you are on the trail.(Photo: Wikipedia)
  6. Hike With A Friend: Whether you are hiking with a friend, family member, or partner, trails that are known to have wildlife encounters should not be hiked solo. Groups of three or more people tend to make the most noise and deter wildlife. Keep in mind bears and mountain lions are most active at dawn, dusk, and night but can be encountered at any time of the day.
  7. Leave Your Pets Behind: While you may want to give your pet some much needed exercise, leave them behind on trails that attract wildlife. Pets may attract bears and cougars and are not allowed on National park trails. If dogs are permitted, keep them on a short leash and don’t let them wander off the path to avoid conflicts with wildlife.
  8. Avoid Dead Animals: Report dead animals to the nearest ranger station if you see any along the trail. Do not approach the carcass – a predatory animal may be out of sight, guarding its food.
  9. Hike Together: Stay close to your group when hiking. Don’t hike ahead or allow someone to fall behind, especially children or pets. Animals are known to behave in a predatory manner and seek out the easiest target.