How to Plan a Wildlife Adventure

July 10, 2017
David Mizejewski

All summer long, the National Wildlife Federation is holding the Great American Campout, a celebration of using camping to connect to wildlife and nature. Here, naturalist David Mizejewski offers tips to assist camp staff in planning wildlife experiences for campers.

One of the most exciting parts of camping is the chance to experience the wonderful diversity of wildlife that populate our forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts. That doesn't mean that it's always easy to spot wild animals. Here are some tips for maximizing your campers’ chances of having an incredible wildlife experience.

Go to Where Wildlife Is

One thing is for sure when camping — wildlife of all shapes and sizes are all around. But for the best opportunity to see wild animals, do research to plan your campers’ wildlife watching experiences. For large species, plan a trip to a nearby National Park or wilderness area that's also home to bears, wolves, large flocks of birds, alligators, elk, bison, schools of fish, bald eagles, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and moose. Also, it’s important to line up your camp’s wildlife watching experience at the time of year that these animals are present and most easy to spot. Many species are migratory or gather together at certain times of the year, so plan those times for your campers.

Broaden Your View of Wildlife

When we think of wildlife, likely images of large mammals or birds come to mind, but the fauna of North America come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the world of invertebrates is incredibly diverse and equally as fascinating. Yes, bugs are wildlife! So are reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Broaden your campers’ view of wildlife and they will be rewarded. Your own camp is an excellent place to explore and see how many insects, spiders, crayfish, pill bugs, worms, and other invertebrates you can spot. It'll give your campers a whole new appreciation for the natural world.

Use All Your Senses

Experiencing wildlife while camping doesn't always mean you'll see it with your eyes. Teach your campers to use all of their senses. Veteran birders say that more often than not, we’ll hear a bird, then see it. The same goes for frogs and toads, which are experts at camouflage but quite vocal during the breeding season. Learning the calls of wildlife is like understanding a new language. What sounded like background noise before will become a cacophony of communication that can be understood. Many wildlife species communicate with scent, so use the nose too. Teaching the sounds of wildlife could be a fun learning experience for your campers, and they’ll be surprised at what wildlife can be detected without ever being seen.

Learn Tracks and Signs

Teach campers that they needn't always have a visual encounter with an animal to have a wildlife experience. Wildlife leave all sorts of signs that will alert people to their presence if it is known what to look for. Seek out muddy areas that are most likely to hold tracks and have campers try to identify the species that have passed through. Educate them on other signs of various species, such as territorial markings, gnaw marks, burrows, nests, bones, and even scat. All are clues about wildlife around us

Be Still

Wild animals are generally wary of human beings and will avoid us at all costs. To experience them, teach campers to follow their lead and learn how to be still and silent. That can be hard for us modern humans who live in cities and towns with constant motion and things to keep our attention. But how wonderful is the idea of finding a secluded spot in nature to quietly sit and take it all in?

Don't Be Afraid of Technology

Having a wildlife experience doesn't mean eschewing modern technology. Invest in binoculars and cameras to offer campers the best wildlife experience possible. Today, even most smartphones can take quality images at close range to enjoy later or use to identify species. Remind campers when they’re packing to include camouflage clothing for an edge in staying hidden and increasing chances of seeing wildlife.

Take the National Wildlife Federations Great American Campout pledge and find great camping resources and information for your camp at http://www.nwf.org/Great-American-Campout.aspx.  Young campers can get in on the camping fun with great ideas from the National Wildlife Federation’s wildlife ambassador Ranger Rick at www.nwf.org/rrcampzone/.


David Mizejewski has been fascinated by our natural world for as long as he can remember. A lifelong naturalist, he spent his youth exploring the woods, fields, and wetlands, observing and learning about the surprising diversity of wildlife that inhabits them.

David is a media personality, author, blogger, and a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. He holds a degree in Human and Natural Ecology from Emory University and is an expert on wildlife and our environment. He’s dedicated to using his knowledge and his enthusiasm to help others understand and protect wildlife.

David is a regular guest on Conan, The Wendy Williams Show, Inside Edition, and NBC’s Today Show. He’s appeared on TMZ Live, Access Hollywood Live, Fox and Friends, The Martha Stewart Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, The Doctors, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and numerous other shows on networks including HGTV, Sundance Channel, The Weather Channel, History, Headline News Network, and CNN.

David has appeared in and provided voice-over for dozens of educational and advocacy videos, PSAs and DVD extras produced by both the National Wildlife Federation and Walden Media for the feature films Hoot, Nim’s Island, and The Chronicles of Narnia. He has participated as a wildlife expert in the press events for the major motion pictures Where the Wild Things Are and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, The Hobbit, and The Nut Job.

Photo courtesy of David Mizejewski