Updated on May 31, 2024

The van’s all packed, tents are loaded and snacks are plentiful — it’s time for an outdoor summer vacation! If you and your family are headed to the mountains, the coast or somewhere in between, check out these tips from Wild Kingdom Host Peter Gros to ensure you’ll have fun and stay safe outdoors.

Outdoor wildlife safety

Keep your distance from wildlife

The National Park Service recommends you stay 25 yards away from wildlife (or the length of two school buses back-to-back). For predators, such as bears and wolves, keep about football field’s length away (100 yards).

“Almost all wildlife wants to keep its distance from humans,” Peter said. “Never run or climb a tree. Bears have been clocked at speeds of 30 mph and are excellent tree climbers. How fast can you run?”

Watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom video, “Bear Cub Rescue,” for tips on what to do if you see a bear in the wild.

Safety during rut season

September and early October are rut (aka mating) season for moose and elk. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a visit as these animals can be aggressively territorial during rut season. Let moose and elk have all the space they want!

Why it’s important to keep your distance

When visiting a national park, stay vigilant with your distance. Recently, there have been incidents with people getting too close to bison at parks, resulting in serious injuries for these tourists.

“Just because wildlife may have become acclimated to tourists and cars, doesn’t mean they’ve lost their wild protective instincts, especially if they’re with their young,” Peter said. So, be sure to keep a distance of at least 25 yards from wildlife. Never approach or pet these animals even if they look like they are approaching you.


food storage box in yellowstone national park

Tips for camping around wildlife

If you’re not looking for wild company around your campfire, ensure any food containers are well-sealed. Open food containers are magnets for wild animals. Place your food in a portable bear-proof container or metal bear box for safekeeping. Some national and state parks will provide these containers for you — check your park’s website for more information.

While camping, follow the “leave no trace” model. Be sure to clean your campsite thoroughly when you pack up — leave only footprints.


Water wildlife safety

man kayaking

Explore marine life with kayaks

One of the best ways to see marine wildlife is from the silence of a kayak, Peter says. Launch your kayak quietly in the morning or at dusk. Paddle and drift silently near the shoreline — you’ll be surprised by how many animals you’ll see.

“During one morning paddle I saw raccoons, a family of otters, deer and even a majestic eagle perched near the lakes edge,” Peter said.

Kayaks will allow you to safely view the wildlife without a fear of disturbing their natural habitat. For some animals, such as manatees, larger boats can cause disturbances to these animals and their environment.


two divers looking for coral in florida keys

Tips to protect and enjoy marine wildlife

Familiarize yourself with local marine life

When planning your trip, visit websites of nearby Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited aquariums to learn more about marine life you’ll be bound to encounter.

Prepare for snorkeling or scuba diving

Planning a journey underwater? Contact local dive shops to determine where you’ll have the best visibility for snorkeling or scuba diving. If you choose to scuba dive, take classes to be certified and always dive with a partner.

Be mindful when boating

“As more and more people become interested in seeing the wonders that lie beneath the surface of our oceans, it’s imperative we learn how to boat while protecting the undersea habitats,” Peter said.

Most boats have chart plotters, which show safe sandy bottom locations to anchor your boat and avoid damaging coral. And if you’re looking to anchor and scuba dive, look for set buoys to clip on your mooring line.

Check your sunscreen

Make sure your sunscreen is reef safe, not containing toxic chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can contribute to coral bleaching. Check your sunscreen ingredients against this list from the National Ocean Service.

Help restore our ocean’s shore line

Consider joining a local beach or shallow water dive cleanup group to keep our oceans tidy and animals safe.


For more tips from Peter, check out his guide to national parks and how to experience nature.


Planning a staycation? Learn how to discover nature in your own community.

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