I remember as a child being captivated by these unusual furry creatures with such lively personalities. They are often found lounging on rocks along the road high above tree line.
Yellow-Bellied Marmot in Rocky Mountain National Park
Today, I’m much more familiar with these creatures but still find them a delight to watch, often wishing I could have such a relaxed attitude to life. They seem to spend so much time simply enjoying the warmth of the sun or chatting with a neighbor.
Marmots are part of the squirrel family and are the largest rodents in Rocky Mountain National Park. The particular species that inhabit the park are the yellow-bellied marmots. You can often hear their shrill whistle, which is used to warn other marmots of potential danger. They live in burrows, typically located in rock piles above 6,500 feet in both subalpine and alpine environments. They survive primarily on grasses, moss, and lichen, but being omnivores they will eat almost anything. Their early mornings are spent gathering food, but much of the rest of the day is often spent on top of a warm rock sunbathing, or, if it is too warm, they may retire to their burrow for a nap. At times they seem to have an enviable life.
The marmots are very social creatures, usually living in larger communities where they can share in the job of watching for predators. In late September or early October, as the weather begins to get cold in the high country, marmots retreat into their burrows where they hibernate until spring arrives in May.
Wildlife Watching Tips:
Marmots are regularly seen at Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Walk to the end of the path and there you might see them on the rocks at the end. Alternatively, drive to Rock Cut and you can often find them just below the wall on the south side of the road. They also seem to regularly hang out just behind the Alpine Visitor Center.
Please remember not to disturb them or try to approach them. They may seem cute and cuddly, but they bite and carry diseases. Give them space and observe them in their natural environment.
Another way to find them is simply to listen for their high-pitched whistle while you are hiking. This is their warning system, much like that of squirrels.