Animal Tracking For Hikers:
Who, What, When, and Why??

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

Huge wolf paw print in mudAnimal tracking gives you information about the neighborhood you're hiking in

Tracking wildlife has been a life long fascination for me.

And if I had a lot of time on my hands, I'd go to tracking school and get really good at this.

But for now, I've got to teach myself about how to spot the signs of animals and birds moving across the hiking terrain I'm passing through.

Which might come in handy for you, too, if you're fascinated by the animals leaving their calling cards, too.

Wouldn't it be great to answer all of those questions above, based solely on a foot print?

Imagine the thrill of seeing a huge wolf print, freshly put down in the mud, like the photo above! I was so excited I couldn't see straight!

Until I found the grizzly scat about half a mile later...then I was on pins and needles. So you can use tracking to learn about your neighbors, but also to keep yourself out of harm's way on a hiking trip.

Animal tracking resources for you

Because I'm so into this subject, I've gathered together a lot of resources on wildlife identification and tracking.

Please allow me the pleasure of sharing a few of them with you here.

Preservation is key

First off, let's face the grim reality that we have to fight to preserve wild animals.

And the places they live: habitat, territory, room to roam.

In the United States, we lose both to lack of political will, decision makers paving over the wild places, and deliberate misinformation.

Field guides for identification and awareness

If you find yourself with a thirst for the names and descriptions of the plants, animals, birds, reptiles and habitat you hike through, indulge your curiosity with some field guides.

I have two types:

  • Lightweight, water resistant, durable ones that I throw into my backpack and consult in the field
  • Large, heavy and well illustrated guides that sit on my bookshelves at home

Take a peek at my Top Ten favorites here.

It's fun to test yourself on just how much awareness you bring to the trail.

And get your kids involved, too.

There are on line resources you can consult as well:

  • Here's a site with interesting visuals, making it easy to watch for mammal signs and tracks.

Learn to track from the pros

Use this fantastic gold mine of tracking information, from Alderleaf Wilderness College.

It's located in my neck of the woods: the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. So I can guarantee that you'll be introduced to some fantastic wildlife.

Here's a wildlife tracking intensive from Wilderness Awareness School that looks fascinating.

And how can we leave out Tom Brown, Jr's tracking school?

The most important step:
get started on your next hike

It's tempting to wait until you know more, or have more time, or can devote an entire day to tracking.

Don't wait!

Start small, start where you are, start animal tracking today!

And be amazed at what a rich network of life is all around you as you stride down the trail in every season.

  • You might be overlooking some big neighbors!
Large black bear track in snow with human hand beside it for scaleLike this black bear just waking up from a long winter's rest

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About the author

Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.

She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.





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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.

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