The Coolest Animals You’d Be Lucky to Spot in Yosemite (And What to Do if You Encounter One)

Lions, tigers, and bears… not quite. The Yosemite National Park might not check all those boxes but 2 out of 3 is still pretty good. Here are some of the coolest animals that you’ll encounter in this California National Park:

Mountain Lions

This big cat—also known as a cougar, puma, or panther—lurks around Yosemite, quietly and elusively. They are predators, eating anything from deer to coyotes to racoons. Though once threatened by hunters who would earn bounty by killing them, protection laws have brought their numbers back in recent years. In the rare chance that you encounter one, stand your ground. Do not run. Wave your arms to look as threatening as possible. Maintain eye contact. If you need to, throw sticks or rocks at it. If attacked, fight back.

Black Bears

The easiest way to spot a Black Bear? Leave food out. Except don’t, because that’s a terrible idea. Food at campsites needs to be stored properly, either in locked storage boxes or sealed containers. If you’re camping, don’t take food into your tent with you, they will smell it and come looking. If you see one, remain 50 yards away. Scare the bear away by making loud noises, banging things together if you need to. Stand your ground, no matter what. Even if they bluff charge, keep making the loudest noise you can. Attacks on humans are quite rare. They mostly just want your food. Don’t let them get it.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

Wild herds of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep are native to the region but have had a rocky (see what I did there?) past in the Yosemite region. The sheep no longer existed in the park within the first 25 years that Yosemite existed, and in the early twentieth century, the entire species was on a collision course towards total extinction. Almost 100 years after disappearing from the park, the population was successfully reintroduced to Yosemite by wildlife conservationists, but the species remains quite endangered. Despite successes increasing their populations, only 600 Sierra Nevada Bighorn live in the wild as of 2016. They generally like to live in rocky, open expanses, avoiding thick forests. If you see one, count yourself lucky!


Prowling Yosemite for rodents is this small-ish cat that looks like a combination between a friendly neighborhood shorthair tabby and a goddamn tiger. If you think you’ve spotted one, they’re distinguished by their short tail, black leg markings, and black tipped ears. They almost never pose a threat to humans, but of course, exercise caution if you see one.


Coyotes roam Yosemite’s meadows, eating mice, rabbits, and, occasionally, bobcats. This thick-furred beige canine is the largest dog in Yosemite, given that wolves no longer live in the park. Coyotes have a very keen sense of smell, and will be attracted to enticing smells that waft their way, much like black bears. (Don’t leave your food out.) Never feed any wild animal, and make sure your food is safely sealed and stored away. If you encounter a coyote, stand your ground or slowly back away. Do not run or turn your back on the coyote. If approached, and the coyote does not have young, look as big as possible, stomp your feet and clap your hands. If they do have young, back away slowly, facing the coyote, and leave the area.

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