With any animal encounter, keep in mind that you are a visitor in these wild places. Treat all animals with caution and respect. Any wild animal can become dangerous if provoked. Stay alert and avoid situations where you might surprise an unsuspecting animal.
Large predators can be encountered at any place on the Idaho Centennial Trail. Wolves, bears, and cougars live and hunt along the entire length of the trail. Anyone spending an extending period on trail is likely to run into at least one of these powerful animals. It is important to remember that an animal attack is a possibility not a probability. Human encounters with wild animals are common and as long as you remain calm and treat these animals with respect, negative experiences are not likely.
Your safety is your responsibility. Every animal encounter is unique, so you must rely on your own knowledge and instincts. You do not want to freeze up or flee in these situations. Being prepared will allow you to remain calm and be proactive in avoiding conflicts.
There are very few grizzlies in Idaho but they are sometimes spotted in North Idaho. The majority of bear encounters will be with black bears. The best way to avoid negative bear encounters is to hike in groups and make noise. If given the chance, a bear will leave the area if it knows you are coming. Especially in thick brush, where visibility is limited and bears tend to feed in dense berry patches, singing out loud or giving frequent shouts is a good way to alert animals that you are coming.
Make sure you check on food storage regulations regarding bears in the areas you will be traveling through. Bear canisters are not required on any sections of the ICT but some campgrounds have rules to protect the bears and your own safety. Bears have a keen sense of smell and are attracted to food odors. Preparing and eating meals and hanging your food outside of camp will likely be sufficient to keep bears out of your campsite.
Wild bears are likely to be much more cautious than those near campgrounds that have been desensitized to human interaction. When in the backcountry, long distance hikers have little to fear as long as they remain alert and aware of their surroundings.
In case of a confrontation, bear spray has been demonstrated to be more effective than a firearm in stopping an attack. Whichever kind of deterrent, if any, you decide to bring along, be sure that you have researched and understand its proper use.
Bear proofing your camp
Hiking in Bear Country
Seeing wolves in the wild is a rare opportunity. Wild wolves are extremely cautious of humans and they will avoid them when they can. Wolf attacks are the least common of all predator attacks.
Wolves were reintroduced in Idaho in 1995 amidst controversy. Today there are healthy wolf populations from the Sawtooths to Canada. Virtually the entire trail North of the Sawtooths passes through areas claimed by local wolf packs. You will certainly see signs of nearby wolves, but encounters with them are unlikely.
Most negative interactions with wolves involve dogs, as the scent marking and territorial behaviors of your dog can trigger a wolf to establish its dominance. Keep your dog under control at all times and, without a rock-solid recall, a leash is a good idea.
When encountering wolves, stay calm and do not flee. Running away can provoke a wolf by triggering its chase drive. Stand your ground. Make yourself as large and loud as you can. As long as you don’t present yourself as an easy target, the wolves will almost always retreat. Keep a close eye on small children or any member of your group that a wolf might identify as vulnerable.
Traveling in a group and making enough noise to signal your presence will generally be all that is necessary to keep wolves at a safe distance.
Reintroduction of Wolves to Idaho
What to do if you are attacked by wolves
Mountain lions express a natural weariness of humans, so odds of encountering one are low. However, they are likely to be nearby at any point along the trail. When confronted by a mountain lion, like all animals, it is imperative that you remain calm and act deliberately. Presenting yourself as large, loud, and aggressive is the most effective way to deter a cougar from judging you as prey.
Hiking in groups and making noise to announce your presence will generally ensure that any cougars in the area will get out of your path long before you arrive. They are not usually interested in humans as prey, but dogs may draw them in. Keep your dog under control and in close proximity to avoid giving a lion an opportunity to separate you. Also, keep a close eye on small children and vulnerable members of your party.
Cougars stash their kills and will fight to protect them so when you encounter animal carcasses, stay very vigilant and get out of the area. Cougars are most likely to strike when you are crouched or looking down. They will take advantage while you are distracted and your neck and back are exposed. So stand tall, stay alert, and put as much distance as you can between you and the carcass.
Do not approach kittens, as the mother is likely to be near by and will fight to defend her young. Keep your distance. These large predators can easily overpower you, so make sure you give them adequate space and respect. Stayingaware rather than afraid is the best precaution.
Stay safe in mountain lion country
7 ways to avoid cougar attacks
How to prevent and survive a mountain lion attack