Mountain Goat Basics: Give the Goat the Trail
Earlier this month, several aggressive mountain goat encounters prompted the closure of the popular Mount Ellinor Trail in Olympic National Park. Find out what to do if you encounter a mountain goat on any trail.
Earlier this month, several aggressive mountain goat encounters prompted the closure of the popular Mount Ellinor Trail in Olympic National Forest. For now, the trail remains closed.
But mountain goats make their homes in the craggy high alpine habitat of many of Washington's peaks. This year, WTA Trip Reporters have spotted mountain goats on Lake Ingalls, Longs Peak and Marmot Pass trails.
So, 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. “We believe their recent behavior [at Mount Ellinor] is because this year’s deep snowpack has confined the goats to trailside areas in combination with 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.”
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. 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 last year. "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, then try to scare it off.
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.