April 29, 2024

There’s something truly magical about camping. The fresh air, the clear night sky and the chance to unplug and unwind. But one of the greatest joys of camping, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Co-Host Peter Gros says, is the opportunity to witness wildlife in their habitat.

Picture this: waking up to the gentle chirping of birds, catching a glimpse of a majestic deer grazing nearby or even spotting a playful squirrel darting through the trees. These encounters offer a sense of adventure and reconnect us with the natural world. But camping among wildlife comes with some challenges and risks. You need to be respectful of the wild animals’ home as well as prepared for what you may encounter.

Before your next camping trip, check out these tips from Peter on how to safely camp around wildlife.


A man wearing a blue chambray shirt, using binoculars to look into the distance. Behind him is a sunset behind a grove of trees.


How to be safe around wildlife

Ready to pitch your tent and set up camp? Remember that you’re a guest in a place many animals call home. So, be sure to be polite and responsible to the animals around you.


Prepare your campsite

Get started with responsible camping by properly preparing your campsite. Peter advises campers to plan their stays well ahead. Check out the park’s rules and regulations. For example, some parks may allow you to bring your dog, but some don’t. Make sure you’re following the rules for the best experience for you, other campers and wildlife.

Campfires may be a no-go

One rule you should research before your trip is whether you can build a campfire.

“It’s fun to sit around in a ring by the fire with your friends, but this is not something you do backpacking or in a national forest,” Peter said. Pay attention to the park’s fire rules. Peter says one way to get your s’mores fix is to use a small backpacking camp stove. Though some national parks do have large cement circles for building fires, check on the park’s website for designated areas.

Save your music for the car ride home

Leave the radio at home, Peter says.

“How many times in our lives can we hear just the sound of the trees?” Instead of listening to top hits, try to identify which animals you can hear. Download an app, like the free Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to figure out which species are nearby.


Two people walking on a dirt and sand trail next to some cliffs and the ocean.


Stay on the trail

When it’s time to leave your campsite to explore the area around you, don’t veer off the path. Look for signposts, numbered stakes in the ground, paint on trees (aka blazes) or piles of rocks (aka cairns). Be sure to get a map online or from the ranger station when you arrive. Staying on trails helps protect plants and ensures you’re in a safe place to hike.

For extra peace of mind, carry a personal locator beacon. This gadget emits a signal to satellites so if you do find yourself lost or injured, authorities can locate you.

When choosing a trail, pay attention to its difficulty level. “Know your own physical and mental limits,” Peter said. And bring the right gear — windproof and waterproof clothing are a must, Peter says. Check out Peter’s packing list for your next excursion.

Leave no trace

You wouldn’t want guests to leave behind trash in your home, right? Pay the same courtesy to wildlife by carrying out everything you bring in. Use storage bags you can seal well. For the things you really can’t take with you, dig at least a six-inch-hole and pack it well.

And leave the souvenirs to the gift shop. “Some people like to collect rocks and nature,” Peter said. “If everybody does that, it’s going to be relatively barren out there. Don’t be a nature collector.”


Bison grazing in a field at the base of a mountain range.


Keep your distance from wildlife

Camping in the great outdoors isn’t the same as visiting animals at a zoo. “Wild animals will wander around you,” Peter said. Be considerate. Stay at least 25 yards away from wildlife and 100 yards away from predators.

The “bear” necessities

If you know bears will be in your area, take bear repellent which can spray 30-40 feet. Should a bear come near your tent, speak in a calm, monotone voice. “If that doesn’t work, yell at it,” Peter said. “‘Back bear! Back bear!’ It’ll scare them off.”

Watch the Protecting the Wild episode, “Rescue, Rehab and Release,” for a spotlight on black bear conservation and check out these black bear fun facts.

Take careful steps

“Over the years, I made a habit of wherever I put my foot down, I watch where I walk,” Peter said. Most animals don’t want to be near you, but you don’t want to accidentally step on a snake.

Don’t feed the animals

Keep your food to yourself. Don’t handfeed or leave food for wildlife. “They’re supposed to be eating what’s growing out there in the wild for them,” Peter said. “You can make them sick with human food. Plus, we want to encourage them to maintain as many of their wildlife habits as possible.”


A young boy looks through binoculars as the dad points into the distance. They are sitting on a large rock next to a lake.


Sharing the joy of wildlife

Now that you’ve got the rules down, what’s the best way to make the most of your wildlife experience? Be present. Stay still and look for wildlife around you. Bring a pair of binoculars to safely view animals from a distance.


Your best opportunities to see wildlife

Unfortunately, wild animals don’t clock in for a shift, so your opportunity to see your favorite species of wildlife is up to chance. For your best bet, talk to the park service guides. They’re aware of the animals’ habits and can likely guide you for the best places and times to see wildlife.

In general, Peter says most animals will hunker down in the forest during the heat of the day to regulate temperature. Dawn and dusk are often your best bet. With smaller human crowds and cooler temperatures, animals find this the best time to graze.


Introducing your children to nature

Share the excitement of wild animals and wild places with the next generation. Bring your children and grandchildren on your next camping trip.

“I encourage people to start young,” Peter said. “It’s wonderful to expose children to nature.”

Prepare your young one’s visit by setting expectations. Let them know this isn’t a petting zoo.

“Explain to kids before they go around wildlife that they’ll see them, but we’ll see them close through our binoculars,” Peter said. And tell kids if wildlife does come close, “we’re going to give them room.” Make your trip easier with these tips to visiting parks with children.

After a day full of spotting wildlife, take the evening to enjoy stargazing at your campsite. Try to identify constellations and planets with your young ones. “When you’re tired at night and you end up looking at the stars … it’s not a bad way to spend the weekend!” Peter said.


Whether you’re going to a local park or making a family vacation to a national park, camping can be a great way to truly immerse yourself in wildlife.

Don’t know where to go? See Peter’s favorite spots in the U.S.

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