A Hiker’s Guide to Wildlife Spotting in North Carolina

Two bears being part of the Native animals in North Carolina

So you’re planning a trip to North Carolina and plan on doing a little wildlife spotting? Well that’s a great plan! North Carolina is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians so your chances of seeing some great wildlife are high.

However, do you know what native animals are in North Carolina? Or where to see them? Well we have you covered. Today, we are looking into the wildlife found in the Tar Heel state. You learn about:

  • Types of animals in NC
  • How to spot wildlife
  • How to stay safe while on your trip

Types of Native Animals in North Carolina

Starting with the most obvious question: What animals will I see during my time in North Carolina? 

You are likely to see a wide variety of animals in North Carolina due to where it is situated in the United States. Sitting just around where the north and south meet, you will see animals that are typically native to mountain regions while also seeing some wetland creatures.

MammalsBirdsReptiles
ArmadillosDucksAlligators
BatsGeeseLizards
BeaversSwansSkinks
BearsQuailsSnakes
BobcatsSongbirdsTurtles
CougarsVultures
CoyotesHeron
DeerEagles
ElkHawks
SwineOwls
Foxes
GroundhogsAmphibians
MinksToads
OttersFrogs
SkunksSalamanders
Weasels
Wolves

Why You Should Familiarize Yourself with NC Fauna

Now that you know what to expect, why should you know what they are? There are a handful of reasons why you should familiarize yourself with local fauna before your trip. 

First, if you are searching for specific native animals in North Carolina, it would be best to know what time they are most active and where.

If you’re looking for an alligator, you’re more likely to find it close to water rather than at the base of a mountain. If you’re looking for owls, you may want to be searching at night as opposed to high noon. 

Another reason to familiarize yourself with these indigenous creatures is to know what kind of dangers there could be. It may be fun to spot some of these animals with friends and family while you take pictures to post on social media, but some of them can be dangerous.

When you see some of those animals listed above, there are a few you will want to steer clear of if you encounter them. Or, depending on the creature, how to act to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

Deer found during wildlife spotting

How to Spot Wildlife in NC

For all you aspiring amateur trackers out there, you would be keen to know some of the tips and tricks to catch a glimpse of some of the native animals in North Carolina. 

Listen to Sounds

If you keep quiet, you are sure to hear the sounds some animals make. From the buzz of a bee to a cry of an eagle, these will easily give away where these animals are located in reference to your vantage point.

So while it may be fun to listen to some music on the trail, we advise you keep the headphones off and listen to the soundtrack of North Carolina’s fauna.

Look for Tracks & Scat

Probably the easiest way to look for wildlife is knowing their tracks. Seeing a freshly minded paw, hoof, or claw print can mean the animal is close. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for them.

The less fun way is using an animal’s scat to track them. Believe it or not, animal scat is different from each other based on diet and size. Depending on how “fresh” it is, you can tell if the animal is close by, too.

Locate Game Trails

You thought those paths on hiking trails were all created by humans? Well, some of them are. But many game trails are paths created by local fauna that pass through or live in the area. 

They are created by the repeated use by native animals in North Carolina. Animals use these tracks to migrate, graze, or hunt depending on their species and time of year.

Game trails is the best way to spot Native animals in North Carolina

Ask Park Rangers for the Best Places for Wildlife Spotting

If you are trekking around the mountains or foothills of North Carolina, you may want to speak with a park ranger. Rangers are experts in the area and know where animals like to gather, eat, sleep, and their tendencies during certain seasons.

They also have intimate knowledge of the trails and will let you know exactly where to go and what to do if you get lost. Be sure to use them as a resource during your trip.

Hike in Early Morning or Late Afternoon

For the best chance to see some amazing fauna, you’ll need to get up early. Most animals are active at dawn to avoid the heat. You may have heard the stereotype that fishermen always get up early to catch fish. Well animals think the same way. 

Animals are also very active around dusk. Again, avoiding the heat of the day is a key reason as to why they are out. But this is also a form of antipredator adaptation. It is harder for some animals to see during this time of day, so animals lower on the food chain use this time to move. 

Safety Tips for Hikers in North Carolina

Now that you know more about the habits and how to find the animals, it’s time to get out there and start looking for them, right?

Not quite.

Now you are going to want to know how to protect yourself in case of any dangerous situations. While you likely have purchased some gear that will help you, you can never be too safe. So here are some tips on how to keep yourself and your party safe.

Keep an Eye Out for Bears with Cubs

Bears are dangerous. They may look like large, cute, walking pillows, but they are dangerous. Especially when it comes to protecting their young. If you see a bear with their cubs, take a detour and stay away from them

Bears are territorial and protective of their cubs and will become unpredictable if you are between them. If you spot them, make sure to leave them alone and leave them a clear path to leave. 

Mama Bear found with cubs during wildlife spotting

Stay on Marked Trails

If you are not familiar with the area, the best way to stay safe is to stay on the marked trails. While the most simple answer is that it will prevent you from getting lost, there are other reasons:

  • Minimize erosion
  • Preserve plant life
  • Steers clear of dangerous animals

Hike with a Buddy

The buddy system was not meant for just middle school field trips. The buddy system should be adhered to because it is a proven system. It will keep you and your friend safe in case of emergencies.

Get Back to Your Campsite Before Dark

Remember how we said that animals are more active towards the end of the day because it’s harder for predators to see during that time? Well that means it’s easier for them to see at night. 

Make sure you are back at your campsite before it gets dark so you can protect yourself and your sight. Trying to navigate on a trail while it is night time is dangerous and can lead to unwanted injuries and more.

What to do if Wildlife Approaches You

Every animal is different. Many will try to avoid confrontation at any cost. Others may see you as a threat and will attempt to engage with you. It is best to know what to do in these situations.

Here are some of the tips for if you encounter specific native animals in North Carolina:

Snakes – Back away slowly.

Deer/Elk – Give it space

Bears: Back away slowly (if it hasn’t seen you). If it has seen you, speak quietly and stand your ground. If the bear does charge at you and makes contact, play dead while covering the back of your neck with your hands and using your elbows to protect your face. Play dead longer than you think you need to so the bear will move on.

Wolves – Stand your ground. If approached, act aggressively and maintain eye contact. Use items like sprays, rocks, and noisemakers to discourage them. 

Alligator – Run away.

Bobcat – Yell or clap loudly.

Cougar – Face directly towards the cougar and look around the eyes, but not at them.

Coyote – Use a noisemaker or shout while waving your arms.

Coyotes found as part of the Native animals in North Carolina

Camp with The Farmstead at Mill Spring

Now you’re fully equipped with the knowledge to find these animals and make sure you stay safe in the process. Only task left to do is to find a place to stay and The Farmstead at Mill Spring can help you with that!

At The Farmstead at Mill Spring, we provide you and your party with a comfortable and safe stay in one of our tiny homes! See what the trends are all talking about as you reconnect with nature and relax with some of the surrounding activities like hiking and water sports.

We are located right by the popular town of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, so there is plenty to experience! Book a reservation today and see what the natural animals of North Carolina have to offer in terms of beauty and nature.

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