Finding yourself surrounded by Black bears in the middle of the wilderness is probably a nightmare for most. Especially considering our car was parked 3 miles away and we were on foot! But instead of running scared, we crouched down in the grass, pulled out our camera’s, and began shooting.
Once regarded as a vast wasteland in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is now 152,000 acres of unique landscape, home to a vast population of diverse and rare wildlife.
Visitors to the Outer Banks used to ensure they completed their journey before dark so to not break down in “no-man’s land”. Tales of bears, snakes and wolves along with miles of nothingness on both Highways 64 and 264 made travelers uneasy at the thought of becoming stranded there. However it was for this very reason – the stories of bears, snakes and other vermin – that we waited until dark to arrive! Call us crazy!
Alligator River has the highest concentration of Black Bears on America’s eastern seaboard, however it is not a zoo. Nor is it set up like your typical National Park.
Alligator River is a National Wildlife Refuge with a primary purpose of protecting and providing a natural habitat for endangered and rare species. We didn’t see wildlife straight away, however with patience and a sharp eye it wasn’t long before we found ourselves surrounded by Black Bears … and snakes!
On driving in, we honestly didn’t believe we were going to see bears in the vast amount of wilderness that is the refuge. We had written down “hot spots” from online, and arrived just before sunset to increase our chances of spotting bears, however we just didn’t believe that they were going casually stroll out onto the roads!
While the majority of tourists to the area will make their way slowly through the refuge by car, we opted for the more adventurous option and pulled out our bikes!
Nothing for the first hour. Unless you count amazing scenery and fresh air of course!
But then we spotted a truck parked a mile away along one of the treelines on Bear Road. They were waiting, watching the treeline intently. We quickly chained our bikes to a fence and began walking towards the vehicle.
While discussing the likelihood that we would actually see bears we walked right past one without noticing. We were told later by the occupants of the vehicle that we walked within a hair of a bear who then walked out onto the road behind us!
It wasn’t long before the sun began setting and up to 10 bears casually walked out from the treeline.
On one side of the narrow grass road we were occupying was the treeline, and on the other was a river. Our first bear sighting was incredible. We had to scramble to get a photo as he dashed across the road and swam across the river to run through the field on the other side.
We couldn’t believe that we had come so close to a black bear! As the first bear sighting of the evening, 6 of us (Mike, Myself and the four occupants of the other vehicle) had scrambled in the same direction to all get a shot of the same bear, however soon enough there were more than enough bears to go around and our problem was choosing which one to shoot!
Mike took off towards a mother and her cub on an adjacent treeline. Before I knew it I had a bear walking casually towards me, with another positioned behind me…and I wasn’t swimming into the river to escape after having seen those snakes!!! But there was no need to “escape”.
Maintaining a safe distance from them, the bears had no problem with us being there. They were cautious of us, however they didn’t approach. They watched us, however they didn’t run. It was a truly phenomenal experience!
Sadly we didn’t spot an endangered Red Wolf, however the bear sightings from the evening truly made the experience worthwhile. And the sunset was truly amazing!
On the way back to our bikes we passed a mother with two cubs. We never thought we would see the day when we had seen so many black bears we would be happy walking straight past one without stopping to take a photo!
Directions to Alligator River:
East Lake, NC 27953
(If East Lake does not register on your GPS device, use Manns Harbor, NC 27953)
GPS Coordinates of Creef Cut Parking area:
35.8639893, -75.8610764 or N 35 51.839, W 75 51.665