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Encountering Mountain Lions While on the Trail: A Comprehensive Guide

Jun 9, 2023 | Hiking Safety, Hiking Skills & Safety

Mountain lion encounters are rare but can be both exhilarating and potentially dangerous. As hikers, it’s essential to respect all wildlife, including these elusive creatures, and to understand their behaviors to coexist peacefully in their natural habitats.

This guide aims to equip you with the knowledge you need to understand mountain lion behavior, prevent unwanted encounters, and react appropriately if you do come across a mountain lion on your hiking journey. Remember, it’s about ensuring your safety and respecting the animals we share the wilderness with.

Understanding Mountain Lion Behavior

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are solitary and elusive animals. They tend to avoid humans, but when encounters occur, they can be dangerous due to their powerful build and predatory nature. Understanding their behavior can help mitigate potential risks.

Mountain lions are most active during dawn and dusk. These are the times when their natural prey animals are active, making it the optimal hunting time for these skilled predators. Mountain lions may come into contact with humans if they are attracted by the presence of prey or if they perceive a threat to their territory or young.

Recognizing Mountain Lion Signs

Recognizing mountain lion signs can give you a heads-up that you’re in their territory. Look for their tracks, which are roundish with a distinctive M shape at the back and no claw marks. You may also see scrapes or covered droppings, which are signs of a mountain lion marking its territory.

Mountain lions make a range of vocalizations, from hisses and growls to eerie screams that some compare to a woman’s scream. If you hear these sounds, a mountain lion might be nearby. Be aware, but don’t panic. A mountain lion is more likely to be scared of you than you are of it.

Preventing Unwanted Mountain Lion Encounters

Preventing encounters with mountain lions starts with understanding their behavior and being aware of your surroundings. Store food properly to avoid attracting mountain lions or their prey to your campsite.

Avoid hiking alone or at dawn and dusk when mountain lions are most active. If you do hike at these times, stay vigilant and make noise to alert wildlife to your presence. It’s also a good idea to carry bear spray, which can be effective on mountain lions if needed.

What to Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

If you spot a mountain lion, don’t run. Running may trigger a chase response. Instead, stand tall, make yourself look larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket, and maintain eye contact. Do not approach the mountain lion, and give it a way to escape.

If the mountain lion approaches you, throw objects, shout, and continue to try to appear larger. The goal is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and may, in fact, be a danger to it.

Hiking in Mountain Lion Territory with Children and Pets

Extra precautions should be taken when hiking in mountain lion territory with children and pets. Keep children close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk to them about what to do if they see a mountain lion.

Dogs should be kept on a leash. Unleashed dogs can attract mountain lions and bring them back to you. If a mountain lion does target a child or pet, follow the same advice for an encounter: make noise, try to look larger, and fight back if necessary.

What to Do If a Mountain Lion Attack Occurs

In the rare event of a mountain lion attack, fight back. Use any objects you have as a weapon, aiming for the eyes and nose. Try to remain standing and face the attacking lion.

After theencounter, get to a safe place and assess your injuries. Even if they seem minor, seek immediate medical attention, as the risk of infection can be high. Report the attack to local wildlife officials as soon as possible. They can provide advice and may need to locate the lion to prevent further incidents.


Encountering a mountain lion while hiking can be a memorable experience, but it’s essential to respect these magnificent creatures and their habitat. Understanding their behavior, knowing how to prevent encounters, and being prepared for what to do if you meet a mountain lion are all important for your safety and the welfare of the lions.

Remember, prevention is key. Keep alert, especially when hiking at dawn or dusk, make noise, and store food properly. If you do encounter a mountain lion, give it plenty of space, do not run, and make yourself appear larger.

With the right knowledge and preparation, we can coexist peacefully with mountain lions in the wild, fostering a greater respect and appreciation for these incredible animals. Stay safe and enjoy your hiking adventures!

Hi there, I’m Shawn!

I’m lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, where there are no shortage of some of the best trails on earth. Are you looking for the best info on hiking and backpacking, tips and tricks, meals, and more? You’ve come to the right place! .