Safety Tips: Mountain Lion Encounters in Utah’s Parks

Imagine hiking down a trail and suddenly noticing fresh large paw prints. Mountain lion or Labrador retriever? Here’s the way to tell the difference: Mountain lions usually retract their claws when they walk. Dogs, of course, can’t do this. So if close inspection of the print reveals toenails, it’s most likely from a canine’s paw.

But about those mountain lions: In recent years, incidents of mountain lion-human confrontations have increased markedly and received much publicity. These ambush hunters usually prey on sick or weak animals but will occasionally attack people, especially children and small adults. When hiking or camping with children in mountain lion territory—potentially all of Utah’s national parks—it is important to keep them close to the rest of the family.

A mountain lion stands looking to the side with its ears up.
Mountain lions are famously elusive. Photo © Deron Rodehaver.

If you are stalked by a mountain lion, make yourself look big by raising your arms, waving a big stick, or spreading your coat. Maintain direct eye contact with the animal, and do not turn your back to it. If the mountain lion begins to approach, throw rocks and sticks, and continue to look large and menacing as you slowly back away. In the case of an attack, fight back; do not “play dead.”

To put things in perspective, it’s important to remember that mountain lions are famously elusive. If you do see one, it will probably be a quick glimpse of the cat running away from you.

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