5 Easy Tips to See More Wildlife On Your Thru Hike

On my thru hike I saw thirteen bears, four moose, and untold numbers of deer and songbirds, a groundhog, a million squirrels and chipmunks, multitudes of bunnies and numerous snakes, turtles, salamanders, frogs, and snails, not to mention centipedes, millipedes and assorted other multi-legged critters. I credit many of my wildlife sightings to how I chose to travel on the trail.

I loved seeing these sweet salamanders after a rain.

I loved seeing these sweet salamanders after a rain.

It’s possible to hike the entire Appalachian Trail and never see a bear or even a moose. Wildlife sightings are certainly partially luck, but trying these five easy strategies can increase your odds of enjoying a memorable wildlife encounter.

moose on the AT

A very big very unconcerned moose in the White Mountains

1. Hike in the magic hours around dawn and dusk.  Wildlife are often more active at the beginning and end of the day. And dawn and dusk are beautiful times to be on the trail with the landscape around you illuminated in golden or rosy light.  

Many species are most active at dawn and dusk.

Many species are most active at dawn and dusk.

2. Unplug.  While you may need your tunes, podcasts or books on tape to get you up some of the mountains, when you plug into technology you miss out on a lot of what’s going on around you.  Slight rustles and warning calls can give you information about where to look before an animal runs off and blends back into the forest background, and you’ll miss those subtle signals if you have your headphones turned up.  

Turtles are one thing you still might notice even with your headphones on!

Turtles are one thing you still might notice even with your headphones on!

3. Put tips on your hiking poles.   Adding rubber tips to your hiking poles will make your hiking much quieter.  Metal tipped poles make noise on slightly rocky trail a good tenth of a mile away, giving wildlife plenty of warning that you’re coming. You can be more stealthy and leave less trace on the trail with pole tips.  They also grip well on slippery wet granite and prevent you from spearing leaves, making holes on the trail, leaving scrape marks on rocks and knocking hunks of moss off fragile edges.  

Snails and other trail critters will be relieved you don't have sharp pole tips!

Snails and other trail critters will be relieved you don’t have sharp pole tips!

4. Hike quietly alone.   If you hike alone you’re more alert and more present to the natural setting around you, rather than focused on chatting with fellow hikers.  I chose to hike with others some days, happily enjoying conversation and storytelling, but those were not the days I saw the most wildlife.

This trail toad is standing in for all the wildlife that was seen but not photographed - especially birds.

This trail toad is standing in for all the wildlife that was seen but not photographed – especially birds.

5. Tune into nature’s rhythms.  Rather than calculating your mileage to the next shelter or water source over and over in your head, use your senses to connect with your environment.  Smells, sounds, colors and textures change often on the trail, and there’s so much to notice and savor, even in the middle of the green tunnel.  If you quiet your mind and open your senses of perception, you’ll begin to see all kinds of subtle details that others might quickly pass by, from tiny bugs to colorful salamanders to camouflaged snakes.  

copperheads on AT

Copperheads hiding in some poison ivy in Pennsylvania

If you’re choosing to hike to be immersed in a wild setting, trying these tips will definitely improve your chances of experiencing some of the most rewarding gifts of a long distance hike – connection with the creatures who make the AT their home.

AT bear runs away

Lumbering away in Shenandoah National Park

Important note: Always remember that bears and moose are large powerful creatures and should be treated with the utmost respect.  Avoid sneaking up on large wildlife like bears and moose.  If you see them and they don’t see you, let them know you’re there with a pleasant, “Hey Bear” or “Hey Moose!”  If they don’t run away, give them plenty of space, moving off the trail if necessary.

Photos: All taken by me on my AT thru hike.

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