The Oregon Cougar
Mountain Lion


The cougar population in Oregon is approximately 3,000 cats. These large cats are often called Mountain Lions. If you are going to be spending time in unpopulated areas of Oregon, you need to know about their habits and how to protect yourself.

I have only seen one cougar in my whole lifetime of hiking and camping in Oregon and I was at home at the time. We lived on the edge of Mt. Hood National Forest near Mt. Hood. We had one neighboring cabin. I was standing at the kitchen sink washing up a few dishes when I saw through the kitchen window a huge cat run down the driveway followed by my neighbor's three yapping and  hysterical poodles. It was a wake-up call. My four-year-old son played outside a lot.

Cougar Action Sign

Steve Wilhelm

Most of the cougars in Oregon live in the Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon and in the Cascade Mountains in Southern Oregon but they can be anywhere.

These cats are most active at dawn and at dusk. They feed on large mammals. Humans and dogs are large mammals. They have been known to attack mountain bike riders, knocking them off their bikes. We have all seen on TV how lions and tigers chase down their prey. Cougars or Mountain Lions don't do this. They stalk their prey and prefer to pounce after lying in wait, often from a high bank which may be covered in brush so they are hidden. If there is more than one person in the group, they will let the larger people go by and choose a smaller person, such as a child.

So what do you do to keep yourself safe?

First realize your chances of running into a mountain lion is small but possible. Keep your eyes open especially when moving by a high bank with brush on top or high rocks. Keep your children close to you--and dogs too. A dog running loose can lead a cat back to you. Keep a sharp eye out when you stop to rest. Do not hike alone.

In camp, store your food in animal proof containers. Sleep well away from where you cook and not close to brush. Be especially wary at dawn and at dusk. Don't let children leave your camping area alone to go to the toilet facility.

If you are staying in a rental cabin, do not let your children play outside alone especially if there is a lot of brush nearby. The same goes for dogs. Some cabins do not allow dogs inside. If this were the case, I would leave my beloved dog at home.

What to do if you come face to face with a cougar.

  • Do not run.
  • Keep eye contact with the cat.
  • Try to make yourself look bigger--raise your arms over your head or open your coat wide.
  • Back away slowly keeping eye contact.
  • Pick up a child without bending over.
  • Raise your voice and speak with command.

What to do if you are attacked.


Use anything you can get your hands on to hit the cat with. It will have your neck or head in its mouth.

I have tried to find reports of mountain lions attacking people in Oregon and didn't find anything. I did find numerous reports on attacks in California and Washington. As I said in the beginning I have only seen one cat but I have never hiked in the Blue Mountains and in Southern Oregon I was mostly in the Coast Range or the Siskiyou's.

When hiking you may see cat tracks but you can mistake them for dog tracks or vice versa. There is a very important distiction to the two. A dog track will show claw marks. Cats have retractable claws and therefore do not show up in their tracks.