Large carnivores are frequently used as focal species for landscape-level planning and conservation purposes. Information on cougars Puma concolor, for example, is being used to predict movement corridors and linkage areas in habitats influenced by rapid urbanization. However, animal movement through habitat terrain is a function of multiple factors, including complex topographic features. To assess the use of topographic position during movements by cougars in the Santa Ana Mountain Range of southern California, we analyzed the travel paths of 10–17 radio-tagged individuals monitored during 44 overnight sessions. We examined selection for canyon bottom, gentle slope, steep slope and ridgeline topography at the scale of the movement session and at the scale of the home range. At both scales of selection, our results suggest that traveling or hunting cougars discriminated in their use of topographic position, that canyon bottoms and gentle slopes (<6°) ranked highest in compositional analyses of selection, and that these patterns were not highly confounded by the presence of preferred vegetation types. Ridgelines were used significantly less often than other positions. Our novel method of quantifying availability and use of topographic positions permits the assessment of terrain features, such as canyon bottoms, in facilitating cougar movements. For complex landscapes, models of animal movement should consider the topographic context that motivates patterns of habitat use, and should be developed using data obtained and analyzed at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.