29 September 2022
By: Jennifer LeVine, Assistant General Manager
Sun, seagulls, and……Bears?! Oh my!
Yes, there are bears on the beach of The Outer Banks. North American Black Bears, to be precise. Located on 64/264 in East lake, you will find the
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
It is just a short drive from our OBX hotel Nags Head or our Kills Devil Hills oceanfront hotel. Here, you will find the most extensive and densest concentration of black bears on Earth. It is believed that the Alligator River Refuge area, which in some spots has residential neighborhoods, houses more bears than people. Now with that being said, DON'T BE AFRAID!!!! Black Bears are usually less aggressive and more tolerant of people. In the entirety of North America, they kill less than one (1) person per year. They usually only attack when humans get too close, especially if cubs are present.
Field Flooding for Feeding
Every winter at the Refuge, they flood the fields for the birds. Did you know that this also helps feed the bears in the Spring? Black bears usually stick to fruits, berries, plants, and insects. Occasionally, they will eat fish, honeycombs, or even a frog or two, but mostly it's just berries and plants. They are also known to go into the neighborhoods along the Refuge to explore trash cans for treats. They can cause quite a mess! So, how does flooding the fields for the birds help feed the bears? The insects and grubs hide deep in the mud when they flood the fields. In the Spring, the water is pumped out, leaving a prime feeding area for the bears. The black bears in North Carolina only hibernate from about November to around the end of January. So, you are stuck viewing the birds these months, but that can be fun too.
Best Time to See a Bear in the Outer Banks
In my opinion, the black bears of The Outer Banks are easiest to see in the early morning or late afternoon/early evenings. They are actively searching for breakfast and dinner during this time. There will still be times when you will have to look harder to see them and times when you won't. You will be fascinated whenever you see these big and goofy (the young ones run like puppies). You will be in awe if you are lucky enough to see a mom and her cubs, which is usually late morning. The cubs and younger – teenage, if you will- bears like to play and explore. They are fun to watch! Unless you are hiking or kayaking one of the trails, you will need a long lens for your camera. And, definitely bring the binoculars. You will not regret it!
Secret Bear Sightings
I'll tell you a secret if you have made it this far. While the Refuge is vast and has many roads and trails to explore, my favorite way to drive to see the bears is this….. From our hotels in OBX on the beach, The
Comfort Inn South Oceanfront in Nags Head
Kills Devil Hills Oceanfront Hotel
, you will go Southwest on 158 (towards Manteo) until it turns into Rt 64/264. At the "big bridge" (Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge). Once you cross the bridge, you will drive for another 6.5 miles and see a sign for Miltail Road. At this sign, turn Left. Once you do, you are on The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and there are maps on your left side with information for accessing. If you continue to follow my favorite, you will go to your 2nd right. This road is Sawyer Lake. Once you make this right, you will have a creek bed to your left and open fields to your right. Follow this along, and you will likely see a black bear or two in the fields. You can pull to the side of the road to stop and look or take pictures, but it is a 2-way road, so don't block it. Also, DON'T SPEED! You might miss the bear or other wildlife like otters and deer. You will also be "that guy/gal" to the person behind you as driving fast through the Refuge kicks up a lot of dust from the gravel roads. Once you reach the end of Sawyer Lake, making a right will take you back to 64/264. Turn right again and follow the road back to the beach when you get there.
Don't Disturb the Bears!
It is my wish if you do decide to find some bears that you have fun and have much luck. I also wish that you understand these wild and beautiful creatures are very beneficial to their surroundings and to look from a distance, but don't unnecessarily disturb them. There, the lecture is done. If you have any further questions on where to go looking for bears or about the Alligator River Refuge, please ask any of our employees at either of our hotels in OBX on the beach. Safe travels! We will see you soon!