Mountain lions are solitary animals, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They use pheromones and physical signs (such as claw markings) to mark their territory.

In recent months, families have turned to nature for inspiration and exploration. While in many ways outdoor adventure can translate into wide open spaces and a safe haven, it’s important that our skills, gear and intel are up to speed. Here are five ideas to consider:

1. Use caution in the backcountry

Whether you venture into the backcountry via skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles, it’s important to be well-informed and fully prepared.

Check the forecast before you head out and take note of any changes in weather that might create unstable snow conditions. Be aware of your surroundings and be on the lookout for temperature and wind shifts as well as cracking or collapsing snow. Better yet, sign the crew up for an online avalanche or backcountry training course to maximize your collective skills and knowledge base.


2. Learn about mountain lions

Mountain lion attacks on people are rare. Yet, recently, interactions have increased. Experts believe the shift is due, in part, to humans moving closer to lion habitat, an increase in deer populations (their prey), and more hikers, bikers and runners sharing trails with lions.

If you venture into lion country, experts recommend exploring in groups and making plenty of noise to avoid a surprise. Carry a walking stick and keep children close at all times. Should an encounter occur, do not run. Stay calm. Pick up any children and talk firmly as you slowly back away. Do everything you can to loom large, raising your arms, opening a coat while not blocking a lion’s escape route. If the lion acts aggressively, fight back with rocks, sticks or whatever you can find without getting low or turning your back.


3. Snake smarts

Hiking, climbing and camping in many parts of the country means a snake encounter is possible.

Make sure kids know to steer clear of anything that resembles a snake. According to the University of Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, more than half of those bitten intentionally provoked the snake in some way. Stay on hiking trails and keep hands and feet away from wood and rock piles, deep grass or crevices. Carry a flashlight and wear shoes after dark.

“Time is tissue,” experts say. So if a bite does occur, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.


4. Don’t let lightning strike

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 400 people are struck by lightning each year in the U.S.

Teach the kids that “when thunder roars, go indoors.” When planning an activity, have a safety plan and know where you will meet should a storm develop. Watch for darkening skies, flashes of lightning and shifting and strengthening wind patterns.

If you hear thunder, even at a distance, it is time to move to a sturdy building or hard-topped metal vehicle with windows closed, advises NOAA. Stay away from tall, isolated trees, utility poles or open areas. Avoid wires and metal fencing. Wait for 30 minutes after the last thunderclap to move outside. If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.

5. Do the stingray shuffle

If you are headed to the beach, be sure the whole family practices the Stingray Shuffle before plunging into the sea.

Stingrays bury themselves under a thin blanket of sand for protection. By shuffling into the water, you’ll create a vibration and the creature will be alerted and will likely move off in a different direction.

Stingrays are also most active at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., prime beach time, so ask a lifeguard or a local about stingray activity before splashing into the surf. Should a sting occur, use hot water to clean the wound and seek medical attention.

The Stingray City sandbar, home to the Southern Stingray, is a popular attraction in the Cayman Islands.


O’Rourke Hayes, an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer, may be reached at @lohayes on Twitter.