This winter I did a bunch of raccoon tracking in snow and it was really informative to study their trails.
One thing I love about raccoon tracks in snow is that you can follow them long distances and connect the dots of their behavior to the different ecologies of your landscape.
It’s extremely common to see raccoon tracks during winter anytime the weather isn’t in a deep freeze.
So today let’s look at the most important keys to identify raccoon tracks in snow, as well as some of the behavior you can read in their trails during winter.
How To Identify Raccoon Tracks In Snow
One of the most defining features of raccoon tracks is that their front feet look like little human hands.
This handlike appearance is a very common way to identify raccoon tracks and is a fairly easy characteristic to see in snow.
Something that commonly confuses people however, is that raccoon hind feet look dramatically different from their fronts.
The photo above shows two tracks belonging to the same raccoon. Notice the front track (on the left) looks like a human hand, but the hind track has a completely different appearance.
If you count the toes however, you’ll notice that both the front and hind tracks have 5 toes each.
Counting toes is an easy way to discern raccoon tracks from 4 toed animals like cats & dog tracks (which can be confused with raccoons in snow if you only see the hind foot).
Raccoon Trails In Snow
Raccoon trails follow a very distinctive 2×2 walking gait that can help with track identification in melted snow and reveal the common routes raccoons are using in your area during winter.
In the raccoon trail shown above, notice how each set of tracks has two impressions landing (generally) side-by-side. Each set includes a front & hind, alternating sides in each set.
This is very different from other common animal tracks you may be familiar with like cats, dogs & deer tracks.
Even though you can’t see the track details, this 2×2 walking gait is a very characteristic trail pattern for raccoons.
If you learn to recognize this 2×2 walking pattern, it’s possible to identify raccoon trails in snow even if significant melting has occurred.
Trails Reflect Raccoon Behavior In Winter
In winter, raccoons often sleep together as groups in dens with other raccoons, and sometimes even other animals like skunks.
They do not hibernate, but enter a state of torpor during the coldest times.
Whenever the temperatures warm up they emerge to look for food and their trails can be quite obvious.
When raccoons wake up during a winter thaw, their trails can be incredibly busy with activity as they search for food. As a result, their trails in snow often contain multiple animals.
Tracks Moving In Both Directions
Since raccoons feed and den in very defined locations during winter, their trails often have tracks pointing in two directions.
If you think about these directions in the context of your local environment, you will often be able to deduce their likely food sources and den sites.
Trails Form Between Dens & Food Sources
During warm periods of increased activity, raccoons will form obvious runs between their winter dens and known food sources.
Raccoons are typically known for being scavengers around human settlements, but in their natural habitat they forage in creeks and along the edges of wetlands.
These raccoons were moving upstream in search of an ice break to harvest morsels of food in the shallow muddy waters.
I covered more detail on raccoon diets in another article if you’d like to learn more about what raccoons eat.
When I followed the tracks in the other direction, they lead directly into where the creek flows into a suburban neighborhood, where it’s common for raccoons to den up in sheds, under decks, even attics if they can get inside.
It was extremely obvious how this trail connected their feeding site in the thawed stream uphill to their den area down in the neighborhood.
If you follow their trails, raccoons will lead you to their food sources, and also to where they den in groups during winter.
Just remember to always be respectful if you find the animals.
Check out my other raccoon track article if you’d like a more in-depth analysis of raccoon tracks compared with skunks, cats & opossums.