Top Ten National Parks for Wildlife Viewing

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
By Nicole Daro
Rocky Mountain marmot

Best for: Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, and marmots.

Bighorn sheep are the living symbol of not only Rocky Mountain National Park itself, but also the splendid mountain range for which the park is named. Bighorns are well suited to the steep and rugged environment of the Rockies: Sure-footed and limber, they can make the precarious jumps and steep climbs necessary to get around. In the summer, they spend a lot of time around the appropriately named Sheep Lakes. You'll probably also see them in packs in the special Bighorn Crossing Zone on Highway 34. To see their graceful maneuvers, hike the Milner Pass trail to the edge of the Crater, where you'll find the bighorns in their Alpine setting.

The park's forests, large, open meadows, and Alpine tundra are home to lots of smaller mammals, like the curious Rocky Mountain marmot and the talkative coyote. Larger, more elusive animals include mountain lions, bobcats, and elk. The best time to see the park's larger animals is at dawn or in the late evening.

Early fall is the best time to watch elk in the park, since that's their mating season. Lucky visitors will get to witness bull elk displaying their antlers, emitting musky odors, and bugling to capture the attention of a herd of females. For the bulls it's a game of winner takes all: triumphant bulls are rewarded with an entire harem of cows with whom to mate. Bugling is most commonly heard at dawn and dusk, and elk can be seen at the edge of clearings in Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park.


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