There are a few things to keep in mind about interacting with nature as you head into the park. Read on to learn more about campfires, wildlife, and litter.
There are some picnic areas in the park that allow small fires within provided metal fire grates. Most picnic areas do not allow fires. Where small fires are allowed, you can also use a disposable or portable charcoal grill, a wood fuel camp stove, or a gas grill for food preparation. Where portable grills are allowed, the used charcoal and ash must be completely extinguished and disposed of in a metal trash receptacle. In those sites where small fires are allowed, it is still your responsibility to know the current fire danger in the area and assess whether it is safe to start a campfire. Check the current fire danger or speak with a park ranger if you are planning to have a campfire and are unsure if the conditions are safe.
If you do have a campfire, before leaving your picnic site ensure that your fire is completely put out. Pouring some water onto the fire may put out the flames, but buried hot embers can reignite after you leave. So, be sure that the embers are fully out by first dousing the ashes with water and then stirring them all the way to the botom with a stick or shovel. Be certain that the fire pit is cool to the touch before leaving.
On our Picnic Sites pages we list which picnic areas allow fires.
When eating food in the picnic areas, you may encounter small wildlife such as birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and larger wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, bears and even deer who are curious about the food you are enjoying. It may be tempting to share your food with these cute critters, and even use food to coax them closer for photos. You may even see other people feeding wildlife. However, remember that feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited in Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain National Park is not a petting zoo with domestic animals, and wildlife can behave in unpredictable ways that puts visitors at risk. They will spend more time closer to roadways, putting them at risk of being struck by vehicles.
Human food also puts animals at risk of becoming ill, as their digestive systems are not designed to process food that they do not encounter in their natural environment- even natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Even offering grass, bark, berries, or any other food source found within the park is prohibited. Feeding the wildlife in any capacity makes them less fearful and more aggressive towards humans in pursuit of their goal of getting food handouts.
Risks to you include:
- Bites, scratches, and/or bruises
- Infectious diseases
- Internet/media fame for a very undesirable reason (Have you seen the number of YouTube videos and news reports of people getting attacked by wild animals because they got too close?)
- Damage to your vehicle or belongings
- Animal waste in or on your belongings (or you) when you do not secure and store your food properly
- Pesky and persistent animals that could become aggressive
- In rare cases, severe injuries or even death
Risks to wildlife include:
- Poor health
- Increased likelihood of being killed by vehicle traffic because they are drawn to visitor areas
- Euthanasia when animals become aggressive or harmful to visitors
- Young wildlife may be abandoned
When you are ready to leave your picnic site, be sure to collect everything. This includes bio-degradable trash such as apple cores, banana peels, bread scraps, etc. Beyond picking up the trash that you see and brought with you, please take a little extra time and look for micro-trash. Micro-trash are the tiny corners of wrappers, or twist-ties, scraps of food, and anything at all that was brought in by humans. The cleaner you leave the picnic site, the safer the local animals will be and the better experience the people who come after you will have.
There are bear-safe trash cans located at each of the picnic sites. These are specially designed to prevent bears from being able to access trash once it is disposed of. It is important not to overload the trash cans so the trash remains inaccessible to the wildlife. If you are unable to properly dispose of litter at your picnic site due to a full trash can or no trash cans being available, pack the trash out with you. Always interact with the park with “Leave No Trace” principles in mind.