Early one morning, I headed out on a trail near my Nevada campsite. A large cougar stopped me in my tracks just a few mionutes later. We were RV camping near mountain lions, and I didn’t even know it.
Lucky for me, the cougar kept walking while I slowly backed away. Seeing a wild cougar (also called mountain lions) was exciting, but knowing how to stay safe around mountain lions is a camping skill I should have learned before that encounter. Most of RVers don’t even know when they are camping near mountain lions. These big cats are solitary creatures, after all. So even if you haven’t seen one yet, odds are pretty good that you might. And when the day happens, here’s how to stay safe.
Surprising Facts About Mountain Lions
Cougars get a bad rap, like the mountain lion who attacked a Colorado trail runner. I was lucky. The big, serene cougar I encountered ran off and disappeared into the brush. Once I caught my breath, I realized “I don’t know anything about mountain lions!” Shaken from the encounter, I went home to learn how to stay safe when camping near mountain lions. Some surprising facts from the Mountain Lion Foundation that I learned include:
Cougars living near campgrounds is more common than most RVers think.
Chances are good that you have gone camping in mountain lion territory. You just didn’t hear or see the big cats. But with their supersonic hearing capabilities and keen eyesight, it’s very likely that they saw you. Mountain lions can even see you in the dark.
YouTube is packed with videos of mountain lions in campgrounds and RV parks. Here’s nighttime video of a cougar roaming at Yosemite Lakes RV resort in California.
How to Avoid Encounters when RV Camping Near Mountain Lions
If you RV in the west, you are probably camping in cougar habitat. In destinations like scenic Vancouver Island, the western Oregon mountains, boondocking sites in Colorado, and everywhere in-between, the big cats roam for food and mates. Despite the many mountain lion myths about human attacks, cougars try to avoid people at all costs.
Mountain lion encounters at campgrounds are rare, but when you’re RV camping near mountain lions it’s still critical to choose campsites in areas they prefer to avoid. Experts at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Headquarters share mountain lion safety tips including:
What If You See a Mountain Lion at Your Campsite?
Most people never see a mountain lion in nature. If you do, don’t take risks. There are important things to know if you get near a mountain lion when camping:
When a mountain lion doesn’t see you, Keep moving
Consider yourself lucky and avoid the cat at all costs. Move in another direction.
If a mountain lion sees you, here’s what to do.
- DO NOT RUN. Stay calm.
- Face the cat while slowly backing away.
- Stand tall, don’t crouch or bend over to pick up a rock.
- Carry children accompanying you.
- Appear large. Wave your arms, raise your voice. Be intimidating!
What If a Mountain Lion Attacks?
In the unlikely event that a cougar attacks, you fight back! Use rocks, sticks, your elbows, hands. Protect your neck. Try to remain standing or get up if you fall. Even kids have been known to fight off cougars.
Unless the cougar attacks, you don’t need to report the encounter to authorities. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation:
With much of the western United States being mountain lion habitat, many parks have come to expect occasional lion sightings as natural occurrence in wild areas, and will simply take note of your report of seeing a lion.Mountain Lion Safety on the Trail, the Mountain Lion Foundation
If the lion exhibited aggressive behavior in the encounter, officials may close off the trail temporarily as it may be a mother lion with cubs nearby; or they may choose to investigate why the lion behaved out of character, as it may be diseased or injured.
Making a media event out of a lion encounter often leads to the death of the lion, even when it behaved perfectly naturally, and caused no harm.
Have you ever seen a mountain lion at a campground? Comment below or go to our Facebook page to tell us what happened when you were camping near mountain lions.