Ways to Respect Wildlife when Hiking through National Parks

A park ranger approaching three bear cubs.

Few trips beat the experience of exploring a US national park and witnessing amazing animals in their natural habitats. Before your trip, it’s important to understand how to respect wildlife when hiking through national parks.

Observe from a Distance

The creatures of national parks are marvels. When you see them, you may want to get up close for a photo or to touch the animals.

However, you should observe wildlife from a distance to keep yourself and the animals safe. As you’re walking on a trail and spot an animal, you can absolutely stop and watch them while remaining aware of your surroundings. But it’s never acceptable to approach the animals.

It’s best to quietly admire the animals that are exploring their natural environments. To get a better look at the critters, consider bringing a pair of binoculars. It will give you the close-up view you desire while ensuring you do not disturb any creatures you encounter.

Never try to Feed the Animals

It’s normal to pack water and snacks for the hike. You need fuel for the adventure! However, attempting to feed wild animals is never a good idea.

Approaching wild animals puts you in harm’s way, and feeding animals can affect their digestion and overall health. As mentioned above, you should only observe animals from a distance. Respect wildlife’s space and allow them to exist without significant human interaction.

A person chasing a black bear.
A fed bear is a dead bear. This black bear (Ursus americanus) had to be killed because it had lost its fear of people, and was entering campgrounds looking for food.

Leave no Trash Behind

As you’re eating some of the snacks you brought along, remember that national parks prohibit you from leaving behind any food or wrappers on the trail.

You never want animals to suffer after eating plastic wrapping or food that harms their bodies. Whenever you eat a snack, always secure any trash or leftover food in a backpack. Once you finish the hike, you can safely dispose of the items.

Watch Your Step

It’s easy to let the skyline and gorgeous scenery distract you on your hike. While the chance to appreciate these sights is one of the most valuable aspects of visiting a national park, you want to avoid potentially stepping on any plants or wildlife.

You never know what’s below your feet if you don’t keep a close eye out. It’s safest to pause during the hike to admire the scenery rather than walk the trail aimlessly.

Ask the Park Rangers Questions

Every national park is different, from the terrain and the weather to the types of animals living on the land. One of the best ways to respect wildlife when hiking through national parks is to ask the park rangers questions before your trip. They can give you detailed answers about animals to look out for, sights to see, and any other concerns you may have.

As you’re preserving the quality of the environment on your hike, it’s also necessary to protect your own body, especially in the colder months of the year. You should wear winter headgear alongside other warm, tight-fitted layers that will keep your body warm and safe. It’s your goal to protect wildlife, but your body is also worth defending.

About the Author

Dan Coconate is a local Chicagoland freelance writer who has been in the industry since graduating from college in 2019. He currently lives in the Chicagoland area where he is pursuing his multiple interests in journalism.

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