Some say you might have a better chance of spotting a unicorn, but wolverines exist. You just have to know where to look. If you are fortunate enough to run across a wolverine, should you be afraid? Let’s find out more about these enigmatic creatures and where you have the best chances of seeing one.
Here’s a hint: You might want to pack a parka; it can get icy where we’re going. Let’s dive in!
This Wild Animal Is So Elusive, We Don’t Even Know How Many of Them Exist in the Wild
Long, lean, and low to the ground, the wolverine is a mysterious member of the weasel family. They have a few other names, including glutton, carcajou, and skunk bear. They’re not big animals, but they have a reputation for being especially strong and fierce.
The National Wildlife Federation says wolverines stand about 1.5 ft tall and usually weigh between 17 and 40 lbs. They’re about three feet long, give or take a few inches, including the tail. That’s about the size of a medium-sized dog. They have dark brown fur with a pale brown stripe.
Wolverines tend to keep to themselves and their immediate family, so there’s much we don’t know about them. They are so elusive that we can only guess at the total population, but video technology is giving us more insight. Conservation Northwest estimates fewer than 300 of them remaining in the Lower 48 states. There are more of them in Alaska, another example of why it deserves to be called “the Frontier State.”
→ Find out just how big is Alaska.
Why Is the Wolverine So Rare?
Wolverines aren’t an endangered species or even protected, but they may be in danger of disappearing. People once hunted and trapped them for their furs, which they commonly used to line the hoods of parkas.
These days, the loss of their habitat is a significant threat to their existence. Wolverines require heavy snow for bearing and raising their young. Because of climate change, there is less snowpack for a den.
Are Wolverines Dangerous?
For many other wild animals, wolverines are fearsome predators. They easily prey on rabbits, rats, and squirrels and can even kill much larger animals like deer, moose, and caribou. They’re also scavengers. When live food is scarce, they subsist on carrion.
Regarding whether they’re dangerous to humans, there are no documented attacks. But why take a chance?
We know we wouldn’t want to witness the wolverine’s ferocious nature up close. There’s another reason to steer clear, relating to the anal glands that give them the skunk bear nickname. You could find yourself in a stinky situation!
7 States Where You Might Be Able To See A Wolverine
Because wolverines go where there’s snow, our search will center on several northernmost states. They prefer remote forested areas in the mountains, where snow remains on the ground in spring. These are places where there’s plenty of other wildlife but not many people.
That’s another reason why there aren’t many documented wolverine sightings. We know they’re out there, though, partly because they are showing up more on surveillance videos.
Wolverines live in a few areas in Washington, mainly in the northern part of the Cascade Mountains. The Conservation Northwest group says there are probably three dozen wolverines in the state.
North Cascades National Park is the best bet for seeing a wolverine in Washington. Other possibilities are Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Other sightings were farther south near Mount Rainier.
Wolverines may be more widespread next door in Idaho, but they’re certainly not abundant. A magazine, High Country News, reports sightings in more than three-fourths of Idaho’s 44 counties. Many of them come from backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.
In the central part of the state, people have reported them in Boise National Forest and Payette National Forest. In March 2022, a group of tourists at Yellowstone National Park was surprised when one crossed their path.
If you’re going to see a wolverine in Montana, it will most likely be in the northwestern region. Many sightings have been in Glacier National Park or Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. That’s where an individual known as M6 has been captured repeatedly on trail cam in recent years.
To remind you how unpredictable wolverines can be, another one popped up recently in an urban area of Lewistown.
Pro Tip: Wolverines aren’t the only wildlife you’ll be able to spot in Glacier National Park! Check out our Guide to Glacier National Park Wildlife.
There were only a handful of sightings in Wyoming in recent years, and those were on camera. Biologists with the state perform regular surveillance and have documented images and hair samples from six wolverines.
Their monitoring generally focuses on two areas; the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Bighorn Mountains. These are vast locations that include the Beartooth Mountains, the Wyoming Range, and the Wind River Range.
The Cascade Mountains, stretching from British Columbia to northern California, make up a significant part of Oregon. They are also where you may encounter an elusive wolverine or even a family of them.
There have been sightings on Broken Top Mountain and Steens Mountain, as well as the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. Wolverines have also been seen in Wallowa County and on Three Fingered Jack’s summit in Linn County.
If you’re a college sports fan or know that Michigan is “the Wolverine State,” you may have been waiting for this one. Wolverines were once commonplace here, but that was a long time ago, during the fur trade era of the early 1800s.
Still, the animal endures as the nickname and logo of the University of Michigan’s athletic teams. In real life, the first one in about 200 years surfaced in 2004. A state wildlife biologist got pictures of it near Ubly, about 90 miles north of Detroit.
Alaska has more wolverines than any of the Lower 48 states. How many is unknown, but they are numerous enough that it’s legal to hunt and trap them in some areas.
Still, Alaska is so enormous that seeing a wolverine is not a simple experience. It may seem akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack. They are present throughout the mainland and along some of the islands of southeastern Alaska.
Pro Tip: Want to go searching for wolverine while in Alaska? Check out our Complete List of Alaska National Parks to decide where to go to look for wildlife.
How to Increase Your Chances of Spotting a Wolverine in the Wild
To see a wolverine in the wild, you have to put yourself in a place where they might be and be extremely patient. This means a remote, high-elevation snowy forest. Even then, the chances are slim.
But don’t feel bad if you don’t get to witness this elusive creature. Very few people do. It’s also important to remember that they are wide-ranging animals capable of covering several hundred square miles. They could show up where you least expect them.
What to Do If You Manage to Encounter a Wild Wolverine
The short-legged wolverine keeps a low profile, and it likes its privacy. They have a keen sense of smell that helps them hunt and sniff out carrion. It’s improbable that you’ll be able to sneak up on a wolverine. They’ll be fully aware of your presence long before you lay eyes on them.
So what should you do if you see one? First, don’t panic. Remain calm and enjoy the experience, knowing it’s such a rarity. If possible, capture it on photo or video, or at least its tracks. Finally, be sure and report your sighting, either to a park ranger or to a conservation organization.
Have you ever seen a wolverine in the wild? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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