Bears in the Outer Banks

Alligator River Wildlife Refuge

alligator river bears

Our weekend trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks was expected to be a relaxing weekend on the beach which is much different than our usual hiking-oriented, outdoorsy trips. And for the most part, the beach weekend ended up being just as relaxing and beachy as we had anticipated…with one exception. While doing some Wikipedia research to see if there were alligators as far north as the Outer Banks, we stumbled upon a place called Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The answer to our question was, yes, there are in fact alligators as far north as the Outer Banks, but more importantly, there are bears as well. This came as a shock to us. We always hope to spot a bear when we’re in New Hampshire, Maine or out west, but the possibility of seeing one on the coast of North Carolina had never crossed our mind. After some more online detective work, we learned that the wildlife refuge has one of the highest concentrations of black bears on the east coast (3 bears per square mile), and from what we gathered from various reviews and travel blogs, it’s not uncommon to see 10 or more bears in a single visit. After reading that, we were just about ready to coat ourselves in leftover bacon grease and hit the road.

The refuge was only about a 20 minute drive from where we were staying in Nags Head and we arrived around 7:30 to begin the search. The expectations were high. No one wanted to leave without seeing a bear…and after almost an hour of somewhat aimless driving, it began to feel that we would be returning home defeated. It was decided that we would make one final loop down “Wildlife Drive” before we officially threw in the towel. On our final loop, we spotted something dark off in the meadow. It took a couple of minutes before it started moving to confirm our first bear sighting. Since we weren’t expecting to need a good camera with zoom capabilities for a trip to the beach, we were woefully unprepared to adequately capture the moment. So that is the explanation for why the following video quality is somewhere between Zapruder and Blair Witch Project.

Within five minutes of our first bear sighting, we spotted another off in the distance, but it was too dark and far away to get a good look at. Fortunately, one of us in the four-person search party was blessed with superhuman eyesight and incredibly saw a third bear from about 100 yards away in complete darkness. After the following video ends, the bear jumped into a stream about five feet to our left and then ran off. We would have captured it all on video; however, in a moment of weakness, I handed the phone to a far less qualified videographer in the search party.

The map below shows where we saw our bears. All were within a radius of a couple hundred yards and all were around 8:30-8:45.

alligator river bears

This place might just be the best kept secret in North Carolina. Whenever we meet someone who goes to the OBX, we ask them if they’ve heard of the bears in Alligator River, and none of them have. (If you want to want to see some of our better bear photos from the following weekend in New Hampshire, click here)



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