Where to find a Puma in the USA

Hey guys,

I have a couple of weeks free before I start my new job and I really want to take the opportunity and take a road trip somewhere to see some mammals I haven’t seen, and preferably a Puma. Ok, I did see a puma but it was very brief and I didn’t get the chance to photograph it.

I live in St. Louis, MO and I was thinking of maybe driving up to Colorado or Utah or something like that.. I know California is good but is a little further than I’d like to drive alone. Any tips? Does anyone know a good guide or a company where I could track wild pumas?

If there is nothing reliable within driving distance of up to, let’s say 12-14 hours, I would also like to see a wild wolverine, fisher, marten, bobcat and lynx. So anyone who knows a particularly good guide, company, or a place where I almost for sure can see some of these mammals in a 4-5 day road trip I, please share 🙂

Thanks in advance!

Tomes

16 Comments
  1. Profile photo of mattinidaho
    mattinidaho 8 years ago

    Tomes,
    The mammals you list are not, in my experience, “for sure” animals to see in the United States. I think you will find a difficult time finding guides that offer itineraries that would include spotting or even searching for these species.

    Bobcats are common in some areas and are probably the easiest to find. I have heard they are relatively easy to find at Point Reyes (although I haven’t been there). I have seen several bobcats in the Flint Hills of Kansas, not very far from where you live (in the Arkansas City area of Kansas).

    Pumas: I’ve lived in puma habitat in Idaho for 11 years and have never seen one, despite spending a lot of time outdoors. I came across very fresh tracks this past winter in falling snow, but that’s as close as I’ve been. In my experience, it takes luck and a lot of time afield.

    Fishers and martens seem more common in far northern Maine. I saw a marten and my dad saw a fisher on the same day there. But again, these were chance encounters.

    Yes, you can see any of these species if you spend enough time in the wilds. But can you plan a two-week trip and have a reasonable chance of seeing them? Other than bobcat, I think you would have a tough time of it.

    Others may feel differently, and I look forward to reading any suggestions.

    Good luck.

    Matt

  2. Profile photo of tomeslice Author
    tomeslice 8 years ago

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks – yes I’m actually going to California later this summer and I will definitely try to visit Point Reyes.

    As far as pumas go, I was thinking of contacting Boone Smith who is a “big cat tracker” who has done some work with Discovery Channel but I doubt he would have time to take me out… But he is definitely an expert. Maybe he’d at least be able to point me in the right direction. He also sees wolves regularly during his research work, which is another species I haven’t seen.

    I guess the question is – if I have a couple weeks’ window to travel, and with these species in mind, where would people recommend I go visit?

    Anyway, thanks again Matt! Any input is highly appreciated!
    Tomes

  3. cmh78 8 years ago

    I agree with Matt, you’ve got some tough goals. Bobcat is by far the easiest and you could probably see one in south Texas. Try Santa Ana NWR, Benston Ria Grande SP, and I’ve been successful road cruising around Loyola.
    I think your best bet on the Puma would be in Big Bend in the Chisos Mountains. It’s a relatively small area with a high population. Odds are still not good, but better. You could also look up a Mountain Lion hunting outfitter that uses dogs and they can show you one. It won’t be cheap though.
    Also, out in CA I had a great drive into Sequoia NP where I saw 3 Bobcats and an American Marten. It was after dark and pretty early in the year. You can also head to Glacier NP in Montana where all of your targets exist, but the odds of seeing any of them are very low. Good luck

    Curtis

  4. heavenlyjane 8 years ago

    You might find if there is a mountain lion researcher who would take you on as a short-term assistant. Your best bet is going along with someone who is radio-tracking tagged individuals.

    They are increasingly seen in California but I’ve only seen one once in years of field work. Track are common but sighting are elusive.

  5. Profile photo of heavenlyjane
    heavenlyjane 8 years ago

    By the way, the one sighting I had was in Big Sur.

  6. Profile photo of vdinets
    vdinets 8 years ago

    Tomes: I agree with Curtis: higher elevations in Big Bend NP are a good place for pumas. Another option is to spend two weeks driving up and down the summit road in Rocky Mountains NP, mostly from midnight till dawn.

    For lynx, the most reliable area is in and around Wood Buffalo NP in June-July: nights are very short in summer, so you see all kinds of nocturnal animals on roadsides at dusk.

    For bobcat, try the public highway through Savannah River Site, but remember that you are not allowed to stop there, and be prepared to explain to the police what you are doing.

  7. Profile photo of tomeslice Author
    tomeslice 8 years ago

    Cool. Thanks guys!!

    Big Bend is still kind of far, I think… But Colorado’s Rocky Mts NP is doable. I mean it’s still a long @$$ drive by myself but I REALLY want to go do something before I start my new job and none of my friends want to go on a road trip..

    I looked up some of those outfitters, but I can’t bring myself to financially support organizations that kill big cats. I’m going to try to contact some researchers, but I’m afraid that they won’t take me seriously since I’m just doing it “for fun” and I’m not sponsored by any program..

    BTW Curtis – I was at Glacier last summer which is where I zoned in on these species. Of course I was there with my parents and sister who are not avid mammal watchers, and as a result we didn’t see much besides deer, elk, moose, a black bear, snow-shoe hare, some chipmunks and ground squirrels, goats and sheep.. It was still cool but none of my targets.

    Anywyay, thanks a lot everyone!! Please keep the suggestions coming if you have more info!

    (PS that sucks that I live in MO which is not very interesting biodiversity-wise.. And to get to all the interesting places I have to cross Kansas 🙁 oh well)

    • cmh78 8 years ago

      I have spent quite a bit of time in Glacier, but have never seen anything on your list there.

  8. Greg 8 years ago

    I saw a lynx at Denali NP in Alaska in 2009. Their populations there follow the boom and bust of the hare populations so you can increase your odds by visiting in the right year. The cycles are roughly every 7 years so you have a few years to save up for the trip. Ironically, and sadly, a puma was killed in downtown Boise this week and I’ve lived in Idaho for 7 years and never seen one. Torres del Paine in Chile is one of the few places where you really do have a good chance to see a puma. The park is well documented on the mammal watching site. I was successful there in 2011. I’ve been to Glacier and spent a fair amount of time in Yellowstone and have not seen any of your target mammals in either of those parks.

  9. Profile photo of tomeslice Author
    tomeslice 8 years ago

    Thanks again for all the advice, guys!
    Yeah, Glacier and Yellowstone seem very reliable for both bears, elk, moose, etc. Yellowstone is also a particularly good spot for pronghorn and wolves which you won’t see in Glacier (wolves-rare; pronghorn-nonexistent). I’ve been to both parks once, and both times were with my parents and sister, so I didn’t have control of the itinerary and we didn’t hike the long and remote trails which at least can lead you to some interesting animals.

    I was just talking with a guide from Colorado Springs who would charge me $500 to take me out from 2:30am until noon and try to find me a mountain lion in an area that’s known for a dense population.. But that seems a bit steep and he has never searched for them specifically before. Without searching, he has only seen 1 in his 30 or so years of guiding, so I don’t think I’m going to spend $500 on one night where the chances are not very high.. Maybe I will drive to Big Bend in Texas anyway.

    Of course Torres del Paine is a good location, and unfortunately I have been there too without knowledge of this.. back when I was 18 or so, on a long family trip to chile and argentina. Paraguay’s Chaco also sounds good with sometimes multiple sightings on a single night drive. Also, the underrated Bosque del Cabo in Costa Rica has had pretty much daily sightings, during the dry season, of a female and sometimes a male that were seen on the trails and even the lodge grounds. They were so frequent that the animals have become habituated and tolerant of people, and may just chill on the lawn in the garden or near the restaurant without caring that 15 guests are taking pictures.

    But unfortunately for me, All these places are far and costly.. I just have a week left where I want to take a road trip, alone or with a friend, to a good lion habitat. Maybe Big Bend is a good place because there are frequent sightings according to the reports online which specify the dates and exact locations for each month, but also there are other animals that would be neat to encounter like the ring-tail which I have never seen, a bobcat, Kit foxes, and there are have even been reports of jaguarundi from there.

  10. Alan 8 years ago

    Tomes, I know that we talked about this via email. Pt Reyes and Marin county in CA is great for bobcats. We see them almost every visit in the winter months. We just returned from Bosque del Cabo in CR. Alas, no puma again but we got really close. We were under a troop of spider monkeys that were barking out their puma warning call so we feel that maybe the puma saw us even though we didn’t see it. They had one sighting a few days before we arrived. You do have a solid chance of seeing a puma here in the dry season. Good luck with your trip.

  11. Profile photo of tomeslice Author
    tomeslice 8 years ago

    Hi Alan!
    As we have talked about, I will indeed try to make it to Pt. Reyes and the Tennessee Valley this summer when I’m in Cali to visit some friends! Hopefully I luck out even though, as you mentioned, they are more guaranteed in the winter.

    I’m excited to read/see pictures of your latest trip and see if you had a chance to enter corcovado and see the endangered-but-awesomely-abundant Tapir. Hopefully some more new species there for you and your family!

    Keep in touch!

  12. Profile photo of tomeslice Author
    tomeslice 8 years ago

    So, if anyone is still curious to know:
    Because of a wedding, bachelor party and other logistical conflicts, my dad and I drove to Big Bend on Monday morning and were back in St. Louis by Friday afternoon. So we only had just about 48 hours inside the park, from Tuesday around noon until Thursday around noon. In that time we saw Mule Deer, White-tailed deer, Barbary Sheep (rare, but introduced), rock squirrel, collared peccary, black-tailed jackrabbit, desert cottontail, Merriam’s kangaroo rat, a small mouse species (probably some pocket mouse), black bear, common gray fox, black-tailed prarie dog (outside the actual park), and at least 1 bat species. But unfortunately NO PUMAS 🙁 or bobcats, despite several rangers’ claims that the bobcats are common in the Rio Grande Village campsites near gopher mounds.. We tried at night, during the day… Nope. So no lifers for me besides the rats and mice. And no ringtail which was also disappointing.

    Thanks anyway for everyone’s help, and I’ll let you all know when I get a chance to photograph a wild puma, which is something I still want to accomplish 🙂

  13. heavenlyjane 8 years ago

    You did really well for such a short trip. The animals you missed are once-in-a-lifetime sort of animals. I’ve seen a mountain lion ONCE, a ring-tailed cat ONCE and a bobcat less than ten times. Peccaries are a nice find, not easily seen just anywhere. Big Bend is a great destination in itself. Are we allowed to ask about herp sighting on the Mammal Watching blog? 😉

    • Profile photo of tomeslice Author
      tomeslice 8 years ago

      You know, I did see some snakes but we didn’t really stop for them. Besides during our first night in the park, when we were so disappointed with the complete lack of mammals during the night drive, we stopped to photograph a rattle snake, which I would guess was a diamondback – because it had, well, diamond shapes on his back. My dad said he saw an all red snake just outside the park, but he didn’t stop and I didn’t make him turn around. Other than that, a couple of small unidentified lizards in the chisos mountains. But I was really just looking for pumas. We did see a single burrowing owl on the way to the park, and what looked like it would have been a golden eagle but we didn’t stop to photograph it.
      Just to point out that the only place in the park where we saw carnivores (fox and bear) was right outside our room at chisos mountain lodge – room#5 facing up the mountains. It was so effing hot the days we were there which may have been the reason for lack of mammals on the trails even early in the morning and right before and during sunset.

  14. Dylan Radin 8 years ago

    I personally have not seen a puma in the wild, but I have multiple friends and have seen trip reports of birders seeing Puma along th Pinery Canyon Road west of portal near Cave Creek Cantyon in the early morning, I think it is as good a place as any. This is in the Chiricahua Mtns in SE Arizona

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