Alligators are the number one fear that new hikers to Florida have. True, they’re at the top of our food chain. But we’ll take an alligator stretched across the trail over a grizzly any day.
The good news: alligators are rarely a threat to humans. The trouble happens when they’ve been fed and associate people with a food source.
That means when you’re hiking or paddling, you should never, ever throw your food scraps into a body of water or near it. Pack them out or get a friend to eat the leftovers!
Backpackers should avoid filtering water at dawn or dusk, since the profile of a hiker bent over a canal or stream looks a lot like a deer from an alligator’s perspective.
Be very careful where you choose to hike with a dog. Never bring a dog with you, especially a small one, if you’re hiking into a swampy area. It could attract a hungry alligator.
Most alligators move out of your way when they hear you coming. If one is lying across the trail, stay way back from it – 20 feet at a minimum – and bang your hiking stick on the ground or stomp your feet.
The vibrations will alert the alligator to the presence of something larger than it and it will usually retreat very quickly.
If an alligator is on the trail and refuses to move after you’ve made a lot of noise, don’t walk up close to it.
If you must pass it, give it a wide berth – the 20 foot rule – circling around its tail end so it doesn’t feel trapped or threatened.
Report nuisance alligators – the ones that come up to your yard looking for food, jump in the pool, or start walking TOWARDS you instead of away from you when you’re outdoors – to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by calling 866-FWC-GATOR.