Hiking and Camping

What to Do If You See a Mountain Goat on a Hike

Mount Goat on Mount Ellinor

The first time I saw a mountain goat on a hike, it was a herd of them atop Ben Lomond Mountain in Utah. This particular peak is claimed to be the one found on the Paramount Pictures logo.

When I was a kid, my dad set a goal to summit every county highpoint in the state. He was inspired by a book called High in Utah.Β This trip was one of many I had the chance to join him on.

To see a wild mountain goat is an exciting experience. I am always amazed at their ability to navigate cragged rocks and climb steep cliffsΒ with ease. It seems impossible for them to ascend and descend their native terrain with hoofs. Somehow, they do it with an unassuming grace that is fascinating to watch.

A mountain goat on Mount Angeles, perched on a ledge

Aggressive Behavior

I have encountered mountain goats a handful of times on the trail. For the most part, they have kept to themselves and I have enjoyed observing them from a safe distance. On one occasion, they exhibited some strange behaviors that came as a surprise.

My wife Kim and I were hiking with our dog Arrow in the Olympic Mountains. This is one of my favorite ranges, located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We had just reached the top of Mount Ellinor and were greeted by a herd of mountain goats. They were strewn across several boulders.

When we sat down to rest, one of the goats approached Kim. She decided to sit still and it started to lick her. Looking back, I’m glad we decided to tether Arrow to a tree. He was not happy about the ordeal and barked until the goat decided to move to its next victim. A few others were also licked by the goat.

Why Mountain Goats Lick People

Once we were back in an area with cell phone reception we looked up information on this strange behavior. We discovered that mountain goats lick people to obtain the salt and minerals from our skin.

The park service discourages people from allowing goats to do this because it furthers their habituation. When mountain goats become used to people they lose their wildness and the animals become more difficult to protect.

In 2010, a hiker was killed by a mountain goat in the Olympic Mountains. Was the goat provoked? Only the people who witnessed the tragedy know for certain. My takeaway is this: It is best to play it safe and keep a reasonable distance from mountain goats.

Licked by Mountain Goat
Kim demonstrating what not to do if you see a mountain goat

The 50/50 Rule

The Washington Trails Association suggests the following “50/50 Rule” to stay safe around mountain goats:

  • Urinate at least 50 feet off the trail, preferably on rocks.
  • Stay 50 yards (or about 150 feet) away from mountain goats at all times.

If you have never seen a mountain goat on a hike, I hope that one day you are lucky enough to have the opportunity. Remember the “50/50” rule. Make sure to stay alert and have respect for goats. If you follow these rules, you will contribute to conserving wildlife and come home in one piece.

Mountain Goat on a Hike
Enjoy mountain goats from a distance
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5 comments

  1. Sounds like very good advice. I really enjoyed the photos of the Mnt. goats thanks.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your comment!

  2. Mountain goats are definitely an amazing sight to see! I saw one up close and personal once while I was bicycling in Colorado – it was pretty terrifying because other people had stopped in the trail to watch it, and it was really close to the trail, and I come rolling up and it ran down right in front of me and then I think it was panicking a little and didn’t know where to go cause there were people all around and it was just like darting around back and forth and in a circle and then back up the hill! But I always wondered what I could have done to help ‘protect’ myself since I was on my bike, haha that’s not a very secure position!

  3. No, the mountain goat was not provoked. He was in rut and chose Bob to be aggressive to. Ended up killing him. Extremely sad, bad situation especially since ONP had had many reports between 2007 and Bob’s killing about this goat and chose not to do anything about it. ONP ignored a large number of reported aggressive encounters of an identified goat and their current safety advice would be dangerous to follow if a goat is really aggressive. Goats are not native to the Olympics and are responsible for extensive habitat destruction.
    A friend of mine also allowed a nanny to lick her and when my friend felt the experience was getting too weird and stood up to leave, the nanny lowered her head and then brought it up quickly to put her horn through my friend’s hand.
    Wild goats are nothing to mess around it.
    I’m glad Kim lived through her experience and you didn’t end up packing her down the hill.

    1. Mountain goat attacks are sad and unfortunate. Thank you for your insightful comment, Kristi.

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