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Dealing with Wildlife While Hiking and Backpacking

Jun 9, 2023 | Hiking Safety, Hiking Skills & Safety

Venturing into the great outdoors brings with it the potential for encounters with wildlife. While these moments can be a thrilling part of the hiking experience, they also call for respect and understanding. Recognizing the behavior of different species and knowing how to react can mean the difference between a memorable encounter and a dangerous situation.

This article aims to provide a guide to dealing with wildlife while hiking. We’ll cover general rules for interacting with animals, detail how to handle encounters with specific species, discuss camping safely in wildlife territory, and outline what actions to take post-encounter.

General Rules for Interacting with Wildlife

When hiking, always remember that you are a guest in the home of countless wildlife species. Respecting their space is crucial. Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife, observing them from a distance. Animals can be unpredictable, especially if they feel threatened.

Feeding wild animals may seem harmless, or even helpful, but it can cause a myriad of problems. It can lead to poor nutrition for the animals, make them dependent on humans for food, and encourage potentially dangerous behavior. Hiking in groups can also help deter wildlife, as most animals will avoid large groups of people. However, if you’re solo, check out our solo backpacking safety tips.

Specific Wildlife Encounters

A. Encountering Bears

Bears can be intimidating to encounter on the trail, but understanding their behavior can help keep you safe. Be aware of bear signs, such as claw marks on trees, fresh tracks, or overturned rocks. If you see a bear, speak calmly and firmly while backing away slowly. Do not run or turn your back to the bear.

Bear spray can be a lifesaver during a bear encounter, but it’s important to know how to use it properly. Practice using it before you hit the trail so you’re prepared for a potential encounter.

We have a full write-up on encountering bears.

B. Dealing with Mountain Lions

wildlife while hiking

Mountain lions are elusive creatures and encounters are rare, but it’s important to know what to do if you meet one. Mountain lions tend to avoid humans, but if you come across one, make yourself appear larger by raising your arms and standing on your tiptoes. Do not run, as this may trigger a chase response.

If the mountain lion behaves aggressively, throw rocks or sticks, yell, and remain standing. In the unlikely event of an attack, fight back with whatever tools are at your disposal.

C. Snakes on the Trail

Hiking can bring you into contact with a variety of snake species, some of which can be venomous. Learn how to identify the venomous snakes in your hiking area. If you encounter a snake, give it plenty of space and allow it to move away. Typically, snakes are more afraid of you, and you have the power to just walk away.

If you or someone else is bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Try to remember the color and shape of the snake to help medical professionals administer the correct antivenom.

D. Birds and Small Mammals

wildlife while hiking

Birds and small mammals are a common sight on the trail. While they might seem harmless, it’s important to give them space and not disturb their homes. Avoid approaching nests or burrows, and never try to touch or pick up these animals.

These creatures are integral parts of the ecosystem and have their roles to play. Respect their presence and observe from a distance, appreciating the diversity of life that makes hiking so rewarding.

Deer and other fauna

Deer and other fauna are prevalent around the country, and differ by region. The main thing to keep in mind is that these animals are typically terrified of humans and will keep their distance. In regards to encountering them on the trail, the act of this is simple – stay away from them. Similar to birds, while they may seem harmless, it’s important to give them their space. There have been reports of attacks from these types of animals, but it’s almost exclusively when they feel they are in danger.

Camping in Wildlife Territory

If you’re camping overnight, take extra precautions to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Store food and toiletries in airtight, bear-resistant containers, and hang them high in a tree if possible. This helps protect both your supplies and the wildlife.

Choose your campsite carefully. Avoid areas with signs of heavy animal activity or near dense vegetation that could hide animals. As night falls, maintain a quiet and respectful atmosphere. Loud noises can disturb wildlife and possibly provoke a response.

Post-Encounter Actions

Even with all the precautions, close encounters with wildlife can still occur. If you’ve had a close encounter, evaluate whether you or anyone else is injured and seek medical attention if needed.

Remember to report any aggressive wildlife behavior to the park authorities. They may need to take action to prevent future incidents. Your report can help protect other hikers and contribute to the management and understanding of wildlife behavior.


Dealing with wildlife while hiking is all about respect, understanding, and preparedness. Remember, you are a visitor in their home. Be considerate of your actions, and maintain a safe distance.

Take the time to learn about the wildlife you might encounter before setting out on your hike. A little knowledge can go a long way in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and the wildlife you encounter. Happy trails, and remember – take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Hi there, I’m Shawn!

I’m lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, where there are no shortage of some of the best trails on earth. Are you looking for the best info on hiking and backpacking, tips and tricks, meals, and more? You’ve come to the right place! .