Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife Viewing

It's almost a sure bet you'll encounter wildlife at Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain's larger mammals include elk, mule deer, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, bobcat, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and just-returning moose. Small mammals always seem to be around, but larger animals, such as elk and deer are generally seen at dawn or late evening.

The wild, eerie yipping song of the coyote is familiar on fall and winter evenings at Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park. These large open meadows are perhaps the best places to view wildlife at Rocky Mountain. During their October mating season, elk gather and the bulls bugle as they gather their "harems." Bighorns—the living symbols of Rocky Mountain National Park—venture out at midday into Horseshoe Park near Sheep Lakes where there is a natural mineral lick. Please observe them from the parking lot. You may also see a gray jay perched on a blue spruce. Other inhabitants of the wet meadows include beaver, deer, coyote, bobcat, racoon, muskrat, porcupine, fox, black bear, weasel, and the occational moose. Beaver, which are common in many streams, are often easy to find. All you need to do is spend a little time around their ponds and lodges in the evening. They usually begin working around sunset and continue long after dark.

The lower elevation montane forests in the park are characterized by ponderosa pines on the dry south slopes and doug fir and aspen on the wetter north slopes. This is the range of Abert's squirrel, coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, elk, fox, and bighorn sheep. These forests are the home of many interesting birds, including the mountain bluebird, the western bluebird, and the great horned owl. In winter, look for flocks of chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches, juncos, and woodpeckers in the ponderosas.

Above treeline you'll find the alpine tundra, a fragile, flower-rich meadowland. Many of these plants are the very same species found in other arctic and alpine areas of the world. The tundra's four-legged inhabitants include yellow-bellied marmot, ground squirrels, pika, coyote, elk, and bighorn sheep. The tundra is a harsh world where the growing season is very short—sometimes less than ten weeks. Five-year-old plants are sometimes smaller than the end of your finger. Recovery from damage may take several hundred years. Please stay on designated trails in tundra areas to give it a fighting chance for survival.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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