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What To Do If You See A Raccoon On A Hike: 5 Critical Steps To Take

A raccoon standing on a tree branch

Raccoons go by many names – masked banditstrash pandasvermin. One thing is certain: raccoons have adapted quite well to the human invasion! You can find them almost anywhere, including hiking trails.

Below, we’ll cover what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike. We’ll give you tips on how to stay safe around raccoons, what to expect during an interaction, and how to handle even the most rascally raccoon. 

Raccoons are rarely seen on hikes because they are crepuscular and nocturnal animals. However, these tips will help you navigate the situation if you encounter a trundling trash panda.

Raccoon Basics While Hiking

A raccoon in its natural environment - what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike

With their little banded tails and adorable black masks, raccoons are well-known animals throughout the United States. You’ve most likely had at least one encounter with a raccoon, whether you scared it away from your garbage cans or saw it while driving at night. 

Unless you’re hiking in Alaska, you are in raccoon territory in every state of the United States. There are even raccoons in Hawaii! You’re much less likely to encounter a raccoon if you’re hiking at high elevations or in dry desert conditions.

Knowing what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike will keep you and any furry companions safe. Most raccoon encounters end peacefully, as raccoons want nothing to do with humans.

By the way, if you’re curious about what to do if you see other wild animals, we have guides on snakes, black bears, grizzly bears, skunks, moose, mountain lions, and coyotes! Be prepared for any encounter in the wild!

Why You’re Unlikely To See A Raccoon On A Hike

If you’re anything like me, spotting animals in their natural habitat is a thrilling part of any outdoor excursion. However, the chances of running into a raccoon on outdoor escapades are pretty low.

Raccoons are crepuscular and nocturnal, meaning they’re primarily active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk and throughout the night. 

The reason behind their night-time shenanigans? It’s all about survival and adaptation. The cover of darkness provides raccoons with a bit of stealth mode, helping them to avoid predators and sneak around more easily while they search for food.

Seeing A Raccoon During The Day Is Okay

Just because you see a raccoon out and about during the day doesn’t mean something’s wrong. While it’s less common, some raccoons adjust their schedules, especially when hunting for food or caring for their little raccoon babies. 

Don’t be too concerned about what to do if you see a raccoon in the daytime on your hike. Seeing a raccoon during daylight hours doesn’t automatically signal illness or distress; sometimes, they’re just doing their thing, living their best raccoon life.

Hiking in urban areas increases your chances of seeing a raccoon out during the day. Raccoons in urban and suburban environments often have access to excess food, so they’ll stay up well into the daylight hours to scarf down food scraps.

Finding Baby Raccoons On Hikes

If you encounter a baby raccoon that looks too young to be away from its mother, check your surroundings. If you are deep within a forest away from roads, the baby raccoon has likely fallen out of the tree or wandered out of the den by accident. 

It may seem cruel, but the best thing you can do is leave the baby raccoon alone. The mother is likely nearby and waiting for you to leave the area so it can retrieve its baby and return it to the den.

There is always the possibility that the mother has perished, especially if you are near a roadway. In these instances, if you feel the raccoons are abandoned, you can always call Wildlife Control to get advice. The same can be said for a raccoon that appears injured.

Hiking Areas Where You’re Most Likely to Encounter Raccoons

Hiker standing at an overlook

Raccoons are widely adaptable to different environments. They feel at home in a suburban neighborhood as much as in a dense forest. Before discussing what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike, let’s discuss where you’re most likely to see them.

These nimble critters only have three main requirements when it comes to their home range: 

  • Close to water
  • Available food source
  • Adequate cover

Raccoons are just as adaptable when it comes to food. They are omnivores, so they are pretty much the garbage disposals of the animal kingdom. However, they prefer crayfish, insects, turtle and waterfowl eggs, fish, acorns, beechnuts, and fleshy fruit.

Raccoons Love Water Sources

The scientific name for raccoons is Procyon Lotor, which roughly translates to “washer” or “washerman.” Raccoons are often spotted near water sources ‘washing’ their food. 

When raccoons dip their food into water, they’re not actually washing their food. Instead, they’re using their incredible tactile (touch) senses to manipulate the food and understand what they hold to see if it’s edible.

This is a natural behavior for raccoons and one reason you’re more likely to spot one near a water source such as a pond, stream, swamp, or wetland. 

A secondary reason is that raccoons love crayfish. It’s their preferred food, and they often sit on the bank of a water source and appear to ‘play’ at the water’s edge. They’re actually just pawing around in the mud and water for crayfish!

Urban Green Spaces

Hiking doesn’t always mean trekking through the wild wilderness. Sometimes, it means walking through an urban park or garden. Due to their proximity to food sources, these areas may have a surprisingly high density of raccoons.

Urban parks often have ponds or streams, which attract raccoons. If you hike in an urban park in the middle of a city, don’t be surprised if you spot a masked bandit! This is especially true if you hike around dawn or dusk.

Near Farmland

Some hiking trails take you to areas surrounded by farmland, a prime habitat for raccoons. The farm provides food in the form of crops, chickens, ducks, and eggs. Unfortunately, raccoons are well known for raiding chicken coops.

Farms also provide access to water via troughs for livestock, ponds, or streams that often run through the property.

Forests

Trees are the main area where raccoons make their dens. They either climb up into the tree and find a hole or den in a hollow beneath the tree, making forests a prime spot for raccoons to inhabit.

Forests also provide raccoons with a safe hiding place during the day, when they can avoid predators and rest. Since many hikes meander through forests, you may pass by a sleeping raccoon without ever knowing it!

Now that we know where these rascally animals are most likely to be on your hikes, let’s discuss what to do if you see a raccoon while hiking.

What To Do If You See A Raccoon On A Hike: 5 Steps

A raccoon in the forest

Whether hiking the Smoky Mountains or strolling through a bottomland forest, if you spot a raccoon, there are specific steps you can take to mitigate the situation. 

Just know that the chances of being bitten by a raccoon are minimal, and the chances of contracting rabies are even less likely. 

An article in the Journal of Human-Wildlife Interactions reports a study from 2001-2004 that found 1,306 people were bitten by raccoons, and no bites were fatal. In fact, only one person has ever died from a rabid raccoon in recorded history in the United States.

Almost all interactions with raccoons end peacefully, with you going one way and the raccoon going the other. Below are five steps to help you understand what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike.

Step 1: Keep Your Distance

Raccoons have excellent hearing and vision. Chances are, they have heard or seen you coming long before you see them. If you want to be sure a raccoon or any other wildlife hears you, consider getting a bell like the Water & Woods Nickel Dog Cow Bell. It can be attached to your dog’s harness or placed on your backpack if you don’t have a canine hiking partner.

You are unlikely to run into more than one raccoon at a time. Raccoons are not social creatures, so if you’ve stumbled upon multiple raccoons, it is most likely a mother with her babies.

Once you spot a raccoon, keep your distance. Raccoons can be pretty defensive when backed into a corner, so avoid getting closer to the raccoon, as this may make it feel threatened or cornered.

By giving the raccoon space, you show that you are not a threat, which helps reduce the risk of aggressive interactions.

Step 2: Back Away

The next step is to back away from the raccoon. Avoid turning your back or making any sudden movement. Instead, back away slowly, the same way you would with a bear (hey, raccoons are closely related to bears!).

Running away should be avoided. Sudden movements like turning and running can be perceived as a threat to a raccoon and may encourage them to run after you. Instead, make slow, deliberate movements away from it.

Step 3: Give The Raccoon An Exit

The trail may be tight if you’re hiking in a narrow valley, a dense thicket, a rocky outcropping, or a canyon. Give a raccoon plenty of space if you meet one in a confined area like this.

When a raccoon feels cornered, it’s more likely to lash out. Avoid cornering a raccoon against heavy brush, thick stands of trees, or any barrier where it might feel cornered or caged.

When given proper space and an exit, raccoons will most likely skedaddle away back to their dens or a form of cover.

Step 4: If A Raccoon Approaches you

If you stumble on a raccoon while hiking and it starts approaching you, it may have babies nearby or feel threatened. This is especially true if you startle it or surprise it by accident.

When a raccoon starts approaching you, break eye contact and back away. When you are far enough away from the raccoon, it will likely stop approaching you and return to its den.

Step 5: If A Raccoon Becomes Aggressive

In the rare instance when a raccoon becomes aggressive and chases or attacks, fight back with whatever you have on hand – a backpack, trekking pole, your boot, etc. 

A sturdy pair of trekking poles is a handy tool to have on hikes for protection and for keeping you steady on rough terrain. Consider snagging a pair like the Mountainsmith Halite 7075 Trekking Poles. They’re collapsible and made of sturdy 7075 aluminum.

Aggression in wild raccoons is very rare. It happens more often in urban areas where raccoons lose their fear of people because they are fed or have adequate food. To enter a physical altercation with a human is highly unlikely, but it has happened.

The steps outlined above are a fantastic guide for what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike—or anywhere else! 

Signs of An Angry Raccoon

Just like dogs, raccoons give off certain warning signs that they feel uncomfortable. These are good indicators that you are too close and should back away from the animal.

  • Posture: Raccoons will lash their tails, bare teeth, arch their backs, lower their heads, and raise the fur on their backs to signal they feel threatened or uncomfortable.
  • Noises: Raccoons will hiss, growl, bark, yowl, and even scream when agitated. 

If you see any of these tell-tale signs, it means the rascally raccoon you’ve stumbled upon while hiking is very grumpy and should be given plenty of space.

Pets And Raccoons

Jarrod Luna and Pawd at Goose Creek State Park. Luna walking on a log with the Pamlico Sound in the background

When you’re out exploring the great outdoors with your four-legged friends, there’s nothing quite like the joy and excitement that fills the air. The trails are a fantastic place for you and your pets to enjoy nature’s beauty. 

However, you’ll encounter more than scenic views and fresh air on hikes; wildlife, including our masked friends, the raccoons, also call these spaces home.

So, what to do when you see a raccoon on a hike with your dog? Below are some of my top tips for raccoon encounters with dogs. Before you head out with your pup, check out our dog hiking gear essentials checklist to make sure you have everything you need for Fido!

The Importance of Leash Laws in the Wild

One golden rule when hiking with pets is always keeping them on a leash. I know I know – it might feel a bit restrictive, especially when you see the wide-open spaces begging to be explored. 

But here’s the thing: keeping dogs on a leash isn’t just about following the rules of the trail; it’s about protecting them, the local wildlife, and yourself. We love Ruffwear’s Crag Reflective Dog Leash. It’s 6 feet long, which gives your pup plenty of freedom while still keeping them close.

While raccoons are generally more afraid of you than you are of them, they can become aggressive if they feel threatened. And from a raccoon’s perspective, an overly enthusiastic dog can definitely seem threatening. 

Keeping your dog on a leash prevents potential chases or interactions that could lead to stress (or worse) for the raccoon and your pet. Our guide on mastering hiking with your dog has some fantastic tips to keep your pup safe and happy on epic outdoor journeys.

Hike At The Right Time

If you know that the area you’re hiking in is a popular spot for raccoons, especially during their active hours at dusk and dawn, plan your hike outside these times. Not only does this reduce the chance of an encounter, but it also gives you a quieter, more peaceful experience on the trails.

In general, you are far less likely to see wildlife in the middle of the day, when most animals are resting.

Stay Alert and Be Prepared

Always keep your eyes peeled and ears open. Raccoons aren’t exactly stealthy creatures, so you’ll likely hear them rustling around or spot them before there’s any close contact. 

If you see a raccoon, calmly steer your pet in the opposite direction to avoid any possible interactions, and follow the steps outlined above.

A properly fitted harness will help control your dog in these situations. We use Ruffwear’s Flagline Harness. It’s lightweight, has a handle for when you need added control, and an extra belly strap to keep it in place.

Practice Commands with Your Dog

Before venturing into the wild, make sure your dog is well-versed in basic commands such as “stay,” “come,” and “leave it.” 

These commands can be life-savers when you need to quickly get your dog’s attention and prevent them from wandering off or engaging with wildlife. Plus, it’s a fun way to bond with your furry pal!

Carry a First-Aid Kit

It’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit handy, not just for you but also for your pet. In the unlikely event of an interaction, being prepared to treat minor injuries can make all the difference.

The Adventure Medical Kits Dog Series Me & My Dog is a first-aid kit for both humans and dogs. It comes in a convenient pre-packaged pouch that can be placed in the car or in your backpack, weighs 1.47 pounds, and has everything you and your dog need to treat minor wounds, allergic reactions, sprains, strains, and even blisters.

You can also take a look at our guide on building a dog first-aid kit if you want to build your own!

Remember, the great outdoors is a shared space—we’re just visitors in the homes of these wild animals. By taking these precautions and respecting the wildlife around us, we can ensure that our adventures are safe and enjoyable, not just for us and our pets but also for the raccoons and other creatures we share the trails with.

What To Do If You See A Raccoon On A Hike: Final Thoughts

Raccoons are feisty, sneaky, and agile creatures who waddle around forests, wetlands, ponds, and streams. You may find them dumpster diving at an apartment complex or hidden deep in a National Forest. 

These animals are incredibly adaptable and can be found in many different environments, including those with hiking trails. Remember what to do if you see a raccoon on a hike: stay calm, keep your distance, give it space, and back away.

Have you encountered a masked bandit on your outdoor adventures? Let us know if you have any tips or tricks in the comments below!

Experiencing wildlife on our hikes is a privilege. Let’s keep things wild by never feeding or touching wildlife and giving them plenty of space! Stay wild out there!

A group of rascally raccoons
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