If you’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering a raccoon up close, you know these mischievous creatures have an unmistakable charm. Their distinctive black masks, striped tails, and dexterous little hands make them hard to miss and even harder not to love. While raccoons may sometimes cause headaches for homeowners by raiding gardens and getting into trash, they are remarkably intelligent animals that can make for fascinating hiking companions or backyard buddies if you get the chance to observe them.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many fun experiences with raccoons over the years. As a kid, my friends and I would try to spy on the raccoon families that would emerge from the woods behind our neighborhood every evening at dusk to rummage through garbage cans and snack on whatever treats they could find. We were always amazed at how adeptly the masked bandits could open lidded cans and containers to get at the goods inside with their nimble little racoon hands.

Racoon dog

One evening, we watched in amazement as a mother raccoon grasped a heavy steel trash can lid and easily flipped it over, allowing her kits to eagerly dive inside the treasure trove of leftovers and scraps. We started putting out little piles of dog food just to watch the raccoons’ antics as they waddled up and skillfully grasped food in their human-like hands to nibble away. We were hooked on raccoon watching from that point on.

As an adult, I’ve had some even more memorable raccoon encounters while hiking and camping. Once while camping in the Smoky Mountains, my friends and I had an entire boisterous family of raccoons descend on our campsite after we went to bed for the night. We awoke to loud clattering and scratching noises to find raccoons had raided our food supplies and strewn empty food packaging all over. Thankfully, the raccoons seemed more interested in playing than confrontation and merely scattered when we unzipped the tent, leaving us to marvel at their brashness and laugh at the mess left behind.

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On another camping trip in Colorado, I made the mistake of leaving my backpack unzipped after settling in for the night, only to wake up and find a raccoon had worked its way inside and fallen asleep in the main compartment nestled in my spare clothes! I’ll never forget that little guy slowly blinking awake and looking up at me with an almost quizzical expression when I opened the backpack and our eyes met. The raccoon calmly sauntered out and disappeared back into the woods, seemingly no worse for the experience.

One of my most fun raccoon memories, though, came when I spent a summer working at a wildlife rehabilitation center in my hometown. We had two young orphaned raccoons, nicknamed Rocco and Rascal, who were absolute comedians. They were inseparable and loved to wrestle, chase each other, and get into all sorts of hijinks under the careful watch of their human caregivers. Raccoons are notorious for their curiosity, and these two lived up to the reputation, constantly getting into storage containers and exploring every nook and cranny of their enclosure.

Perhaps their favorite game was something the staff dubbed the “Cheez-It Challenge.” One of us would place a Cheez-It cracker box outside their enclosure just out of reach, and Rocco and Rascal would brainstorm and work together to find ingenious ways to pull the box close enough to open it and devour the salty treats. Whether it was using sticks to pull the string handle closer or stacking leaves and branches to stand on for extra reach, we were constantly amazed and entertained by their problem-solving abilities. Those two little guys were the highlight of many of our workdays that summer.

Raccoon dog

Raccoons may often be seen as nuisance animals, but I’ve found so much joy and been endlessly entertained by these clever, masked mammals over the years. From backyard raccoon watching escapades as a kid, to surprise campsite encounters, to getting to work up close with orphaned raccoon buddies Rocco and Rascal, raccoons have provided me with so many fun experiences and fond memories. While they can admittedly cause some trouble, raccoons also happen to be utterly captivating little creatures when you take the time to appreciate their smarts and sweet, furry personas.

So the next time you spot a raccoon bounding along or rummaging through your trash can, don’t be too quick to shoo it away. Stop for a moment and marvel at nature’s litte masked bandit making its living in our human world. With a little patience, you might just find yourself having your own fun raccoon encounter to remember forever.

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