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Mountain Lion Signs & Prints: How to Spot Their Tracks

Mountain lions signs include tracks and sounds. Tracks can be made out of paw prints, scat, and even fur. Their paw prints are similar to cat prints but larger. Unlike dogs, wolves, and bears, they don’t leave claw marks in their prints. While mountain lions are elusive animals and prefer hiding, they can’t completely conceal their presence. 

Mountain lions are elusive animals. They stay hidden as much as they can and avoid contact even with other mountain lions. 

Their secretive nature is what allows them to thrive and catch their prey by surprise.

But like all other animals, mountain lions leave signs that tell us about their presence. These signs come in different shapes, from paw prints to scat and fur. The sounds mountain lions make can also give them away.

In this article we take a closer look at the signs mountain lions leave behind. We’ll check out their paw prints, scat, and more so you can tell if a mountain lion is near.

What Do Mountain Lion Tracks Look Like?

Mountain lion tracks resemble those of cats, but they are much bigger. Like all felines, they don’t leave claw marks in their prints and have four toes and a larger paw pad. Their tracks are distinguishable from other animal tracks and prints but can be mistaken for lynx, wolf, dog, or even jaguar tracks.

Mountain lion tracks look similar to cat tracks. They are larger because mountain lions

and their paws are also larger.

A mountain lion’s paw prints have a cat-like look, with an overall round shape. The prints show four toes and a big heel pad. The toes aren’t symmetrical, with the outside toe being further back than the inside one.[1]

The tracks are large, around one and a half to two and a half inches long. This size is enough to distinguish mountain lion tracks from cat and bobcat tracks, unless the mountain lion is unusually small.

Like all felines, mountain lions have retractable claws. They walk with their claws retracted so claw marks aren’t visible in their tracks. 

This helps differentiate them from other animals like dogs, wolves, and bears which leave claw marks when they walk.

Mountain lions and other felines sometimes walk with their claws extended when they need more traction.

What Do Mountain Lion Tracks Look Like

Do Mountain Lions Have Claws?

Yes, mountain lions have claws. Claw marks aren’t usually noticeable in their paw prints as their claws are normally retracted when they walk.

Like all felines, mountain lions have retractable claws that they keep sheathed while walking. They use their claws when hunting to grab onto prey and when climbing for a better grip on trees.

Keeping their claws retracted while walking and stalking prey helps them stay quiet. It also protects the claws from wear and tear and keeps them sharp.[2]

Mountain Lion Scat

Scat is another way of identifying a mountain lion’s presence. They frequently use scat to mark their territory, especially the males. It’s generally placed in visible spots, like roads and paths.

Like many other animals, mountain lions use scat as a way to mark their territory. The scent of scat and urine marks the lion’s range and deters others from crossing into it.

Mountain lion scat can be divided into a couple of segments or only one piece. It’s between six and fifteen inches long with either a blunt or pointed end. The diameter is generally about an inch.

Like most predators, mountain lions have light-colored scat because of the amount of bone they ingest. Pieces of bone, fur, and grass may also be visible, but no other plant materials are present.[2]

Mountain lions regularly create mounds of dirt, leaves, or other things on which they urinate and defecate as markings. 

Mountain Lion Scat

Mountain Lion Gait

Mountain lion tracks show a regular gait that directly registers, which means they step in the same spots with their front and back paws. Like most felines, mountain lions walk unless they are hunting. There won’t be noticeable differences in the distance between their steps.

Mountain lions’ gait resembles the gait of other felines. They directly register when they walk and run, which means that they step with their back paws in the same places that they did with their front paws.[3]

Mountain lions also keep a constant pace when walking. They only slow down or speed up when hunting prey, stalking prey, or running away from threats.

Their gait can help in differentiating mountain lion tracks from other feline tracks, especially lynxes that have similar-sized paws. The distance between a mountain lion’s steps is much larger.

Thanks to their gait, mountain lion tracks generally look like neat pairs of paws.

Mountain Lion Gait

Other Signs of Mountain Lions

Besides tracks, mountain lions leave behind other signs of their presence. They are elusive creatures, and even if we don’t see them often, they are all around us. Scratches on trees, kills, and the sounds they make give away their presence.

Mountain lions prefer to stay hidden, but if we look and listen carefully we find signs of them all around us. Their range is huge, and they are even recovering territory in the eastern US and Canada.

Even if you don’t see paw prints or scat there may still be signs of mountain lions around you:

  • Scratches on trees and logs.
  • Fur, on trees and on the ground.
  • Fresh kills, half-eaten prey.
  • Sounds, especially “screams” heard at night.

Mountain Lion Sounds

While mountain lions are inherently quiet animals, they make a variety of vocalizations. They use these to communicate with each other and other animals.

The most recognizable sound is the mountain lion’s scream. The blood-curdling screams they produce can be heard over long distances. They are used when searching for a mate, or by fighting males.

Mountain lions can be in heat at any time of year so you may hear screams all year round.

If you happen to get too close to a mountain lion, it will probably hiss, growl, and snarl at you. Be mindful of your surrounding, especially while hiking.

Mountain Lion Sounds

Mountain Lion Tracks vs. Similar Tracks

Mountain lions have similar tracks to many other animals in their environment. Prints can be mistaken for lynx, wolf, or dog prints if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Details like print length, claw marks, and gait tell you the difference between animal tracks.

In the wild, mountain lion tracks aren’t isolated from the tracks of other animals. If you’re planning a hike or around mountain lion territory, it is useful to know how to tell paw prints apart.

Here’s how mountain lion tracks stack up against other animal tracks:

AnimalMountain LionLynxCat / BobcatWolf / dogBearJaguar
SizeBetween 2½ and 4 inches.Smaller, 2 to 3½ inches.Small, 1 to 1½.Larger, up to 5 inches long.Varies, usually over 4 inches, up to 14.Up to 5 inches.
ShapeRoundRoundRoundOval (Tall)Oval (Wide)Round, usually wider.
Claw marksRarely sharp marks.Rarely sharp marks.Rarely sharp marks.Always blunt claw marks.Always blunt claw marks.Rarely sharp marks.
GaitLong steps, regular, directly registeringShort steps, regular, directly registeringShort steps, regular, directly registeringLong steps, irregular.Long steps, irregular.Long steps, regular, directly registering


While mountain lions are elusive animals, they leave plenty of tracks if you know what to look for. They leave big round paw prints. They step in the same places with their front and back paws and walk at a regular speed, so their tracks have a neat aspect. 

Besides paw prints, mountain lions leave scat and tree screeches, and even their sounds can be used to identify them.

About Codrin Frunzete

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