Hiking season returns to Wyoming. While enjoying the great outdoors, hikers everywhere must take precautions against dangerous wildlife encounters. In Wyoming, that includes run-ins with mountain lions (otherwise known as cougars.)

Why Would a Mountain Lion Confront a Human?

Mountain Lions are solitary, shy creatures by nature. They don't typically wander into human habitats, instead preferring areas ripe with prey and foliage. They also don't tend to hunt humans—they are more likely to flee than fight if they detect your presence. If you encounter a mountain lion in the wilderness, chances are the cougar was minding its business before the surprise encounter. However, encounters still happen and are always dangerous situations.

5 Critical Steps to Take in a Mountain Lion Encounter

  1. Do not run. Running triggers a cougar's instinct to give chase. "If you have small children with you, pick them up, if possible, so they don't panic and run." says the USDA.
  2. Stand and face the animal. Get loud. Avoid crouching or looking small, as this triggers the lion to view you as prey. Instead, wave your arms and shout to appear more intimidating. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  3. Start throwing stones. If able, start throwing stones in the general direction of the cougar. If the cougar doesn't flee, start throwing stones directly at it. (National Park Service)
  4. Never turn your back on the cougar. If you must flee, do so slowly, walking backward while remaining large and loud. (mountainlion.org)
  5. Fight back! If the lion attacks, don't try to run. Fight back. Protect your head and neck, use rocks and sticks to defend yourself, and work to scare off the cougar. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Always report a mountain lion encounter to your local National Park or Game & Fish office.

How to Spot a Cougar in the Wild

The presence of a mountain lion isn't always easy to detect. Designed to blend into their environment, mountain lions have the eerie ability to disappear in a forest. You're more likely to hear a mountain lion before you see it. They are reported to make sounds like a person whistling or chirping birds in the woods alongside the more well-known mountain lion roar.


If you suspect a mountain lion presence, expert trackers have ways of identifying a cougar presence in the area. They look for the following:

  • Tracks with three lobes at the bottom of the pad. Dogs and coyotes have one indent at the bottom of their pads.
  • Teardrop-shaped toes.
  • Tracks between three and three and a half inches wide.
  • No visible claw marks - you'll usually find exposed claw marks on coyote or dog prints instead. The tracks might belong to a cougar if you see thin, slender claw marks.

Mountain Lion Safety Tips: Preventing an Encounter

The best rule of thumb for handling a cougar encounter is to avoid a cougar encounter. Never approach a mountain lion, especially one that is feeding or has kittens, as these lions will be more territorial and aggressive. Here are tips on preventing a cougar encounter:

  1. Be loud on the trail. Wear a bell, talk, and make noise. This will warn the lions of your presence and give them time to flee the area.
  2. Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk. These are peak mountain lion times.
  3. Avoid bringing pets. Pets can be viewed as prey by mountain lions.
  4. Find a camping spot away from animal trails. Also, avoid sites with rock overhangs and cliffs. 
  5. Stay on the trailCougars typically avoid areas frequented by people.

10 Tips For Hitchhiking In Wyoming

Safety should always be your first concern. If it doesn't seem like a good situation, it's ok to pass and wait for something else.


Missouri Department of Conservation. (n.d.). Mountain lion signs | Missouri Department of Conservation. Mountain Lion Signs. https://mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/report-wildlife-sightings/mountain-lion-reports/mountain-lion-signs

Stay safe - Mountain Lion Foundation. Mountain Lion Foundation. (2023, October 20). https://mountainlion.org/stay-safe/#!on-the-trail

U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Your safety in mountain lion habitat. National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/yoursafety_mountainlions.htm

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest - Outdoor Safety & Ethics. Forest Service National Website. (n.d.-b). https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wallowa-whitman/learning/safety-ethics/?cid=stelprdb5228155


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