Mountain Lions in the Grand Canyon

Driving on the East Rim Drive of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon you see an unusual sign.  It's a yellow caution sign for mountain lion crossing

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Driving on the East Rim Drive of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon you see an unusual sign.  It’s a yellow caution sign for mountain lion crossing.  It brings up the question “Are there mountain lions in the Grand Canyon Nation Park?”  The answer to that question is “yes”.  However, the chances of you seeing one is slim.  Mountain lions are primarily nocturnal.  They have incredible night vision to hunt and navigate at night; they can see with 1/6 of the light humans need.

Since mountain lions live from as far north as the Canadian Yukon to as far south as the Southern Andes in South America, you will find them in the Grand Canyon.  They live in a variety of habitats.  At the Grand Canyon, they most frequently live in the forests of the North and South Rims.  They have a very large territory and their home range is usually around 150 square miles.  This means that most mountain lions here live both in the Park and the surrounding Forest Service lands.

The extreme vertical structure of the Grand Canyon represents a formidable barrier to large mammal movement.  In addition to this, the Colorado River represents a constant obstacle for crossing the canyon.  Resident adult mountain lions on the South Rim of the canyon use the rim as distinct territory boundary. Research has found very little use of the canyon by mountain lions, except areas just below the rim that were often used for short periods of resting during the day.

Mountain lion research has shown that only one mountain lion, a young female, traveled into and across the canyon.  This lion, dropped off the South Rim, swam the Colorado River, and climbed to the North Rim in the space of 8 hours. That is quite a feat!

In the five years I’ve been coming to the Grand Canyon, I have never seen a mountain lion.  The mountain lion crossing sign always brings up questions about whether the mountain lion is actually around.  We know they are there, but are rarely around when they would be out. A stop at one of the lookout points recently yielded this photo of mountain lion tracks in the snow.

The visitor to the Grand Canyon should have no reason to fear mountain lions because they do not see humans as prey.  For mountain lions, however, being hit by cars is a common cause of death.  Visitors are asked to use caution when driving after dark, especially on the East Rim Drive, and keep an eye out for mountain lion and other animals crossing the road.