All Illustrations by Charlie Layton

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Encounters on the Trail

Guidelines on how to stay safe and defuse potentially unsafe situations in the wild, animal by animal.


Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Running on trails almost guarantees you some interaction with wildlife, and that’s a wonderful thing. The likelihood of a safe wildlife encounter is far greater than an unsafe wildlife encounter. However, there is potential for a meeting with a predator, a snake or any animal that feels a need to defend itself. Here are some very general guidelines on how to stay safe and defuse potentially unsafe situations in the wild.

list of animals and how to react to encounters
Photo: Charlie Layton



  • Stay calm, keep your dog on a leash and back away slowly.
  • Stop running, stand tall, and yell if a coyote(s) sees you and appears to be sizing you up.
  • Throw something to scare it away, but don’t actually hit it.
  • Make eye contact if the coyote is alone, and back away slowly.


  • Turn your back and run away or let your dog give chase.
  • Act threatening or look any of them in the eye if you are facing a pack.

Mountain Lions


  • Stop running and make eye contact.
  • Make yourself appear as big as possible. Raise your arms slowly, open your jacket and stand close to your running partner.
  • Make noise by yelling and banging rocks together.
  • Throw something you have in your hands.
  • If you’re between the lion and its prey or kittens, give the lion a path to get to its treasure.
  • Fight back if attacked, protecting your throat and neck.


  • Bend or crouch down.
  • Turn your back and run. Mountain lions like a good game of chase.



  • Leave the snake alone.
  • Give it a wide berth.
  • If struck by a snake, stay calm and seek medical help as soon as possible.


  • Stick your hands in crevices.
  • Sit on logs or craggy rocks without looking around them and inside.
  • Step over a log into a shady, possible snake-napping spot.
  • Provoke the snake in any way.



  • Carry bear spray where you can grab it quickly.
  • Read bear spray instructions beforehand—spray duration and distance vary among brands.
  • Start to spray a charging bear when it is 30 to 60 feet away.


  • Climb a tree. Black bears and grizzlies can both climb better than humans.
  • Keep dogs off-leash. Off-leash dogs can attract grizzlies and lure them back to their owners.

If you see a bear and it doesn’t see you

  • Stay calm and back away slowly.

If a bear sees you

  • Talk in quiet tones, telling the bear you’re a human. Then back away slowly if it returns to doing bear things.

If a bear sees you and charges

  • Stand your ground. (The charge may be a bluff.)
  • Use your bear spray.

If a bear attacks you

  • Drop to the ground and play dead by covering the back of your neck with your hands and protecting your face with your forearms, elbows on the ground.
  • Play dead for longer than you think you need to. A bear may sniff you or simply watch you to make sure you are no longer a threat before leaving.

If a bear is stalking you

  • A predatory bear will approach you with its head up and ears erect. If you think a bear is following you, make a 90-degree turn and walk 100 to 300 yards, make another 90-degree turn, and walk another 100 to 300 yards, and so on. It may just be curious and leave you alone once its curiosity is satisfied.
  • Talk loudly, wave your arms, look as big as possible, and throw things, showing the bear that you are not easy prey, while you walk and turn, walk and turn.


Trail Head by Lisa Jhung

Excerpted with permission from “Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running.” (2015, VeloPress)

From PodiumRunner
Filed to: