I've only managed to see a mountain lion in the wild once. It was not many years after Scenic Canyons got started, my dad and I were driving down a bumpy dirt road after cleaning restrooms at Friendship and Spring Campgrounds on the Cache National Forest. As we came around a corner, there was a mountain lion standing right in the middle of the road. It looked at us for a second before jumping down and standing on a rock by the river. From the safety of our car, we were able to observe this beautiful animal, until it disappeared into the trees. Never again was I able to spot one of these elusive animals.
While we no longer manage those campgrounds, there are mountain lions present on the Colville & Idaho Panhandle National Forests (our permit managers had a run-in with one at Noisy Creek Campground). When visiting our campgrounds, please make sure to respect these creatures. While mountain lion attacks are very rare, knowing what to do while in mountain lion country could save your life.
If You Encounter a Mountain Lion
If you spot a mountain lion & the animal is unaware of you, alter your route so that you will move away from its area.
Never approach a mountain lion especially one that is feeding or with kittens.
Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation. Always give them a way to escape.
Do not run. Remain calm. Hold your ground or back away slowly.
Continue facing the mountain lion & maintain eye contact.
Do all you can to appear larger; Stand upright, raise your arms, raise your walking stick, open your jacket.
If you have small children or pets with you, try to pick them up without turning away or bending over.
Never bend over or crouch down, avoid looking like a four-legged prey animal. Again, do not bend over to pick up a rock or stick off the ground. This action may trigger a pounce response in a mountain lion.
If the lion behaves aggressively, wave your arms slowly & speak firmly in a loud voice, & throw objects like the water bottle in your hand. The goal is to convince it that you are not prey & may be dangerous yourself.
Try to remain standing to protect your head & neck.
If attacked, fight back!! Use rocks, jackets, sticks to turn away the mountain lions.
Report any mountain lion encounters or incident to the local Ranger District, or Fish & Wildlife Office.
Avoiding Mountain Lions on the Trail or in the Backcountry
Even at a distance a brief glimpse should be cause for alarm. Though the cougar is most likely to leave the area, you should group together & travel with great caution.
Make your presence known. Make noise, sing, talk loudly, or wear a bell.
Avoid walking or hiking alone. Travel with a group if possible.
Watch children closely & never let them run ahead or lag behind on the trail. Talk to children about lions & teach them what to do if they meet one.
Hike during daylight hours & stay on established trails.
Watch for signs of mountain lion use along the trail; scat, claw marks, scratch piles usually made of grass, dirt, pine needles & leaves.
Stay far away from kittens, their mother is nearby.
Select a campsite away from thick brush, rock over-hangs & cliffs, & animal trails.
Avoid taking pets - they are easy prey & may attract mountain lions.
Do not leave pets or pet food outside & unattended while in camp, especially at dawn & dusk. Pets can attract mountain lions into developed areas.
If there are repeated sightings, be prepared to aggressively defend yourself & others. Be alert & on guard for the remainder of your hike.