How to Hike in Mountain Goat Country
Mountain goats make their homes in the craggy high alpine habitat of many of Washington's peaks. What should you do if you encounter a mountain goat on any trail you're hiking? How should you interpret their behavior: are they aggressive or merely curious?
“Mountain goats are powerful, inquisitive, wild animals, but they are not generally aggressive by nature,” says Wildlife Biologist Kurt Aluzas. (Watch the video below to get more tips from Aluzas)
Aggressive behavior, he says, can be the result of a variety of factors; deep snowpack confining goats to trailside areas, a seasonally high demand for minerals (salts) and their habituation to people. "There is also the potential that the Nanny goats are being protective of their young,” he says.
Male goats may behave more aggressively during the breeding season, which is generally from October through December.
The 50/50 rule: pee off trail, give goats a wide berth
If you only remember two guidelines around mountain goats:
- Hikers should urinate at least 50 feet off the trail, preferably on rocks. The animals' attraction to the salt in human urine can bring goats closer to trails (and the hikers on them) than is good for either species.
- Try to stay 50 yards (or about 150 feet) away from mountain goats at all times. Do not feed the mountain goats or allow them to lick your skin or gear. For photographers, this means using a telephoto lens to snap your shots. Never try to approach or pet kid (young) mountain goats. No matter how cute they are, mountain goats are still wild animals. It's up to hikers to give the goats a wide berth, even if they are standing close to, or even in, the trail. If the trail doesn't permit you to go around, consider turning back early.
"If the goat wants the trail, give the goat the trail," Nancy Jones, a Visitor Services Specialist with the Cle Elum Ranger District, told WTA in 2012. "Back off. Give the goat the right-of-way. Go the other way."
If you have an encounter
If you've done everything you can to keep your distance or calmly retreat back down the trail and a mountain goat still stays curious or acts aggressively in summer, then try to scare it off. (The advice of biologists is different in the fall. Watch the video below; seasonal tips start at 5:00.)
First, use noise—screaming, a whistle or small airhorn—and flap clothing like a jacket or a mylar blanket.
"Scream at it," Jones said. "Try to discourage it from following you. Wave clothing at it."
The mountain goat will likely move away. If it doesn't, "throw a rock at it if you have to," Jones said.
Report potentially aggressive encounters to the ranger district where you're hiking.
Spotting large mammals may be one of the most thrilling wilderness experiences you'll have as a hiker. But follow good mountain goat etiquette to protect the safety of both the animals and every other hiker who will follow you up the same trail.