Wildlife Encounter Tips


We want you to have a howlingly good time in the Golden Gate National Parks, but we also want to protect the wildlife that howl (and those that don’t). The national parks in your backyard are teeming with wildlife, and it should be your mission to minimize your interactions with them.

Why? Because human visitors can change wildlife behavior and damage habitat. Like when animals become reliant on people as a food source. Also because wild animals are exactly that--wild animals, meaning their behavior is often unpredictable, and an encounter could land you in a risky situation.

Adhere to these basic guidelines to keep you safe...and save you from social media ridicule (no selfies with the mountain lion please):

  • Never feed wildlife (don’t even think about feeding candy to that squirrel).

  • Don’t be a buzz kill. Do not interfere with mating, predation, or other natural behavior.

  • Keep a respectful distance (at least 10 feet) from wildlife. No Instagram shot is worth endangering an animal.

  • Follow the “leave no trace” principles. Leave the outdoors better than you found it.

And while most of those basic guidelines will help you in most situations, see the specialized advice for keeping yourself and your loved ones (including your doggo) safe while exploring your parklands.


Coyotes are our neighbors in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They have homes all around the parks, including Lands End and the Presidio. Usually timid creatures, coyotes that live in close proximity to humans can become more brazen and emboldened, especially when encountering a small child or dog.

Coyote interactions are more likely during certain times of the year. According to the Urban Coyote Initiative, “Coyotes mate in mid-February and are ready to give birth by mid-April. During this time, both when nearing birthing time and once the pups are born, coyote parents are more protective of their denning areas and more active in hunting food. Their level of activity and protectiveness rises even more as the pups begin to venture out of the den in early summer.”

If you come across a coyote and it doesn’t immediately bolt for safety (its most likely course of action), “haze” the coyote until it leaves the area. This includes:

  • Make yourself look tall and be loud as possible. Don’t ever turn your back or turn to run.

  • Clap your hands, wave your arms, and shout in a calm, authoritative voice.

  • Last ditch effort: Hurl an object around you towards the coyote; don’t aim to hit it, a “warning shot” or two should suffice.

While some might view this behavior as abusive, most coyote advocates will tell you that scaring them away is the kindest thing you could do. According to the Urban Coyote Initiative: “Keeping up a coyote’s natural fear of humans is the only way to keep urban coyotes alive, for a coyote that becomes too brazen is sure to end up euthanized.”

In addition to rare attacks on humans, coyotes have been known to show aggression toward their domesticated distant relatives. Keep yourself and your pooch safe with these guidelines:

Keep your dog on a 6-foot leash.

  • Avoid areas known to have coyote activity, especially during breeding and pupping season (spring/summer).

  • Don’t detour off trails. Going off trail, following social trails, or heading into areas where there is thick brush lining the path increases your chances of running into a coyote. Staying on trail in open areas gives you plenty of time to spot and react to a coyote.

  • Don’t walk your dog at sunrise and sunset hours. Coyotes are naturally active during the day, though urban coyotes usually switch to nocturnal behavior.

  • Report overly brazen coyotes. If a coyote gets too close, follows you for too long, acts overly assertive, or does not respond to hazing, report the coyote to the National Park Service at the non-emergency dispatch number (415) 561-5505. If you’re in the Presidio, contact the Presidio Trust at (415) 561-4148 or coyote@presidiotrust.gov

Mountain Lions

Here are some recomendations to increase your safety when hiking in mountain lion habitat:

  • Make noise, be loud, and make your presence known. Sing, talk loudly, or wear a bell.
  • Do not hike solo. Hike with groups, with adults watching any kids.
  • Keep small dogs and children close to you. Keep your pets and kids within your line of sight at all times. Teach your kids what to do if they see a mountain lion. 
  • Hike during daylight hours and stay on established trails.
  • Get the rare chance to see one from a safe distance? Though the cougar is likely to leave the area, you should group together and hike with caution.

In the extremely rare case that you encounter a mountain lion:

  • Stay calm and maintain eye contact. Hold your ground or back away slowly. Face the lion and stand upright.

  • Do not approach a lion. Always give them a way to escape. Never approach a mountain lion—especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation.

  • Do not turn your back or run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so they don't panic and run.

  • Do not crouch down or bend over. If you're in mountain lion habitat, avoid squatting, crouching, or bending over, even when picking up children or pets. Maintain an upright posture to signal that you’re a human!

  • Band together. Hiking with a group? Ask your peers to circle up and keep an eye out for each other.

  • Assess the situation and slowly create distance. As the Mountain Lion Foundation notes in their safety tips, "Consider whether you may be between the lion and its kittens, prey or cache. Back away slowly to give the mountain lion a path to retreat, never turning your back. Give the lion the time and ability to get away."

If the mountain lion exhibits threatening or aggressive behavior:

  • Do all you can to appear intimidating. Attempt to appear larger by raising your arms and opening your jacket if you are wearing one. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
  • Throw rocks, sticks, water bottles, backpacks, and any heavy object available to you. If looking bigger doesn't scare the mountain lion off, use whatever tools you have within reach to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it. Again, be sure to give the lion an escape route.

If the mountain lion continues to move in your direction:

  • Start throwing things at it. Your safety is more important than the mountain lion's.

If the mountain lion attacks you:

  • Fight back! Do not play dead or lie down. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

Report a Sighting

Please report any suspected mountain lion sighting immediately using the contact information below. Early reporting assists us in our efforts to respond in coordination with California Fish and Wildlife.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control Emergency Dispatch at (415) 554-9400 or 311

Presidio Wildlife Hotline at (415) 561- 4148 or email jyoung@presidiotrust.gov