As much as we like to think of the mountains as “our backyard”, they are first and foremost a wilderness, and home to a few species that pose risk to humans. Although having an aggressive wildlife encounter is very unlikely, it’s good to know what to do just in case.

Black Bears

bear on snow

Luckily for us, Colorado does not have a population of grizzly bears. We do, however, have quite a large population of black bears. While black bears are generally skittish and will usually run from people, it’s good to know what to do if a bear takes interest in you.

Preventing an Encounter:

  • Try to hike in groups, groups are generally louder and decrease your likelihood of startling a bear
  • When camping, keep your food securely stored according to area guidelines. This usually means storing all food and other “smelly” objects, such as lotion and toothpaste, in bear lockers or bear canisters.
  • If the area you are recreating in has recent reports of aggressive bears, it might be a good idea to bring bear spray with you as a last line of defense.

During an Encounter:

  • Keep calm and identify yourself by talking to the bear in a low, calm voice. 
  • Do not run, this can trigger a bear’s instinct to chase you, and bears are much faster than humans
  • Pick up small children immediately
  • Make yourself look as large as possible, get to higher ground or use your pack or gear to make yourself appear larger.
  • If the bear isn’t moving, try to calmly and slowly exit the area by walking sideways, keeping your eye on the bear. Don’t turn your back or run. If the bear begins to follow you, calmly and firmly stand your ground.
  • Be sure to always give the bear an escape route, a cornered animal will feel threatened and may attack.
  • If the bear is with cubs, do not try to approach them and never put yourself in between the cubs and the mother. 

If the Animal Attacks:

You may have heard the old advice of playing dead to survive a bear attack. This is only true for brown/grizzly bear attacks. In the rare case of a black bear attack, you want to try to escape to a car or building. If escape isn’t possible, fight back. Use whatever object you can find and kick or hit the bear’s face and muzzle. Use bear spray as a last resort. 

Wilderness Skills: Wildlife Encounters

Mountain Lions

mountain lion behind rock

While you may not have personally seen a mountain lion while hiking, they have probably seen you. Mountain lions are generally elusive, quiet, and wary of humans. Attacks and encounters are very rare, but can happen. Here’s what to do should an encounter occur.

Preventing an Encounter:

  • Hike in groups and keep small children and animals close to you

During an Encounter:

  • Stay calm
  • Do not run, mountain lions have a strong chase instinct.
  • Do not approach the lion, make sure the animal has an open escape route.
  • Avoid bending over, squatting or crouching, this can cause humans to appear as four legged prey animals.

If the mountain lion approaches you and shows signs of aggression:

  • Make yourself appear larger, spread arms and wave them slowly, speaking to the lion in a low, calm voice. If you’re wearing a jacket, spread it open to appear larger.
  • If the lion is not deterred, throw rocks, sticks or any nearby objects you can grab without bending over in it’s direction. The goal of this is not to hit the lion, but to show it that you can fight back.
  • If the lion is still approaching, begin throwing objects at it with the intention of hitting it. 

If the Animal Attacks:

Fight back! Try to remain standing to prevent the cat from getting a hold of your head and neck. Use any objects available; your backpack can also be used as a shield. 


Moose w/ calf

Some may be surprised to see moose on this list. However, moose are one of the most dangerous animals in North America. While there are an average 2 bear attacks per year in North America, moose injure 5 to 10 people annually. So here’s what to do in a moose encounter.

Preventing an Encounter:

  • Males are generally more aggressive in the Fall during the rut, and females are more aggressive in the Spring during calving. 
  • Keep your dogs close and on leash. Wolves are a natural predator of moose, because of this instinct they have a strong aversion to dogs. 
  • Make noise while hiking to avoid startling a moose. Talking, singing or clapping every once in a while is enough. 

During an Encounter:

  • Give it space
  • Talk to the moose calmly
  • Back away slowly
  • Do not approach, yell, or throw things

If the Animal Attacks:

Play dead, generally the animal will lose interest.

Check out this video from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for more info:

Respect All Wildlife

While the main focus of this list is “dangerous” species, there are some best practices for encountering all wildlife on the trail. Do not feed or approach any wildlife. Even “docile” species such as elk can become aggressive or agitated if approached. Your selfie is not worth it. Additionally, feeding any wildlife, even the smallest species like chipmunks, is bad for the animal. This causes them to associate humans with food, making them less wild and more susceptible to disease. So when recreating, keep in mind that Leave No Trace also applies to wildlife. 

  • Written by Hayley Moser. Adventurer and Fly Fishing, Backpacking, and Hiking Guide for Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides.

Reference: National Parks Service,

mountain goat climbing

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