Camping Safety Tips

At some point in your camping adventures, you will be face to face with some kind of wildlife. Dangerous encounters are very rare, but it is a good idea to be prepared with these camping safety tips. Don’t let fear stop you from fully enjoying nature. Wildlife safety while camping is all about being aware of your surroundings and knowing what to do in the event of an encounter. Before you arrive at your campground make yourself familiar with the animals that live in the area and know what to do ahead of time.

Below is a list of animals that you may encounter in different parts of the country. As with anything else, lack of knowledge can make us much more fearful of situations than is necessary. Use this guide as a starting point for wildlife safety while camping.

Some animals may look safe to approach and you might even be tempted to try to pet or get close to them but always remember that these are wild animals and are unpredictable. Never approach any animal even if it looks sick or injured. It is best to alert a park ranger if you see an animal in distress. You could make the situation worse by trying to intervene without proper training.

Injured baby deer in grass as a reminder to not approach wild animals. RV Travel 101 reminds you to always call for a ranger.

Wildlife Safety While Camping Rule #1- Keep It Clean

One of the most important things you can do to avoid wildlife encounters is to keep your campsite clean. Don’t be careless with food or trash. Keep all food and food related items inside your RV or car including coolers that don’t lock. Don’t store your trash outside. Put it in wildlife resistant trash cans, dumpster or store inside.

Don’t ever feed wildlife for any reason including the cute squirrels. If animals become accustomed to being fed or easily obtaining food, they will lose their natural fear of humans and often become aggressive.

Also, don’t leave your pets unattended outside and always keep them on a leash. A wild animal can come out of nowhere but if your pet is on a leash near you, the chances of an attack are very small.

Wildlife Safety While Camping Rule #2- Know the Wildlife You Might Meet

Alligators

RV Travel 101 reminds you to never approach an alligator like the one in this photo in a lake with leaves around it hiding.
  • Alligator attacks are very rare and in most cases not deadly.
  • Alligators prefer to avoid people but will aggressively defend a nest.
  • If you seen an alligator, keep your distance. They can move very fast.
  • If you are in a boat, kayak, canoe, etc. do not block an alligator’s access to land.
  • Never feed an alligator. Alligators become conditioned to humans quickly when being fed and they lose their fear of us and become dangerous.
  • The best way to protect yourself is to not swim in waters known to inhabit alligators especially at dusk, dawn or nighttime. This is when they most actively feed. When you are in a body of water where there could be a possibility of alligators being present, make sure you have a clear view of your surrounding area and there are no reeds or grass growing nearby that can give an alligator a place to hide.

If on the rare chance you are attacked:

  • Run- if you are on land or can get to land, run as fast as you can in a zig zag. They are not meant to run on land.
  • Fight- put up as much of a fight as you can. Alligators normally bit and release then bite again. Use that release time and poke it in the eyes or any other soft tissue you can get ahold of.
  • Make lots of noise- scream, yell and be as loud as you can

Mountain Lions and Coyotes

If You Encounter a Mountain Lion or Coyote:

Mountain lion overlooking a rocky edge.
  • Stop- do not run. You will activate their natural instinct to chase.
  • Talk loudly in a low voice.
  • Keep eye contact and ack away slowly.
  • Make yourself as large as you can- raise your arms, hold your jacket or backpack over your head.
  • Pick up pets and small children.
  • Normally these animals are more afraid of you and will go in the other direction but if it becomes aggressive throw anything you can get your hands on at it.

If Attacked by a Mountain Lion or Coyote (very rare):

  • Don’t run- running activates their instinct to chase.
  • Fight back using anything around you.
  • Protect your head and neck with your hands, jacket, backpack etc.

Snakes

The snakes to be concerned about in the U.S. are rattlesnakes, cotton mouths, and copperheads.

Rattlesnakes

There are 11 North American Rattlers- find out if any are home to the area you will be traveling here

Rattlesnake in grass with rattle on tail standing up and head facing forward.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Cottonmouth snakes also know as water moccasins, are North America’s only venomous water snake. It has a distinctive blocky, triangular head and a thick body. They have a dangerous bit but rarely bit humans and only attack when threatened. They are semiaquatic, which means they are happy swimming in water and basking on land in the southeastern United States.

Western cottonmouth snake with mouth open ready to strike.
Western Cottonmouth

Snakes are not confrontational creatures. They do not want to interact with you anymore than you want to get up close and personal with them. They can sense our vibrations from walking and look for a place to hide often behind rocks, logs or in thick brush. If you find yourself very close to a snake, jump away and keep moving back. A snake can only jump the length of it’s body- usually no more than 3 feet.

How to Avoid a Snake Encounter

  • Stay on the trail and only walk where you can see where you are stepping.
  • Avoid stepping in tall grass, weeds and brush.
  • Don’t step directly in front of or behind logs and rocks. Step on top and jump away.

What to Do If You Are Bitten By a Snake

Snake bites are pretty uncommon and deaths are even more rare. Many snake bites are actually dry bites which means no venom is released. If you are bitten- don’t panic.

  • Seek immediate medical help.
  • Remain calm to slow the spread of the venom.
  • Call 911 and wait calmly for transport or if that is not an option, walk out at a relaxed pace breathing deeply.
  • DO NOT apply a tourniquet.
  • Don’t try to cut the would or remove the venom.
  • Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol which could speed the spread of the venom.
  • Take a picture of the snake or try to remember what it looks like which will help with treatment but do not try to capture it.

Spiders and Scorpions

There are only 2 species of spiders in North America that can case serious injury- black widow spiders and brown recluse.

Black widow spider with red markings on back.
Black Widow Spider

Black Widow Spidershere is why you don’t need to worry about them too much. (I know I feel much better!)

Brown recluse spiders– live in a region comprising of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and parts of Nebraska. While these spiders are common in these areas, bites are not common.

Brown recluse spider on light background to see size.
Brown Recluse Spider

Brown recluse spiders hide in dark, secluded places such as under trash cans, tires etc.  

There are primarily nocturnal and lay eggs from May to July.

Brown recluse spiders have a scary reputation but in reality, only 10 percent of recluse bites require medical attention. The rest look like little pimples or mosquito bites and they heal on their own.

How to Avoid Brown Recluse Spiders

  • Shake out clothes and shoes before you put them on.
  • Wear gloves when working with wood, brush leaves etc.
  • Don’t reach into any dark areas without gloves.

If You Are Bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider

If you suspect your small child was bitten by a brown recluse spider, see your doctor right away. Their bodies cannot ward off the dangerous effects of the spider’s venom as easily.

For adults, most brown recluse spider bites can be treated at home. About 10% will cause ulcers or blisters that damage your skin so badly that you need a doctor’s care. See your doctor right away if you develop an ulcer or blister with a dark (blue, purple or black) center, if you are in extreme pain, have trouble breathing or get an infection at the site of the bite.

Hobo Spiders- the hobo spider was once thought to be toxic but it’s venom is now considered to be nontoxic and their bites non-necrotizing (non- tissue destroying). Hobo spider bites are rare and tend to be mistaken for bites from other toxic species, such as brown recluse spiders.

Non venomous Hobo spider on piece of wood with 8 legs stretched out.

Scorpions

Scorpions- the Arizona bark scorpion is the only deadly scorpion present in the U.S. It can be found in the southwestern Unites States especially widespread in most parts of Arizona. Small populations of this scorpion have also been observed in southeastern California and southern Utah. Here is some interesting information including how to prevent stings and what to do if you get stung.

Arizona scorpion on rocks

Bears- Black and Grizzly

If you see a bear and it doesn’t see you, quickly and quietly walk away. Don’t run!

If the Bear Sees You:

  • Stay calm and avoid sudden movements
  • Talk in a normal voice and move your arms slowly so it knows you are human.

If a Bear Charges You:

  • Stand your ground until it stops then back away. Bears normally charge as a bluff.
  • Don’t run or try to climb a tree. They will be provoked to chase you.

Grizzly Bears-

RV Travel 101 shows grizzly bear in a meadow looking at camera reminding you to never run from a bear.
Grizzly Bear

Play dead. Grizzlies only attack if they feel threatened. If you present no threat, they will likely move on.

Lie face down on the ground covering the back of your neck.

Don’t move and stay silent.

Keep your legs apart and leave your backpack on.

Stay quiet and still for a while after the bear retreats. They often watch and will return if they see movement.

Black Bears-

Black bear standing next to a tree looking at camera. RV Travel 101 reminds to never run from a bear.

Be loud, waive your arms and stand your ground.

Fight back using anything you have including bear spray if you have it.

I have to admit, doing the research for this page has helped ease most of my fears about being out in nature. A dangerous encounter really is very rare no matter what the news wants us to think. Be aware of your surroundings and go out to explore nature!

RV Travel 101 has so much information to help you plan for your camping adventures. Click here for more RV Travel 101 “How To” articles.

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