Wildlife of Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park has not only stunning vistas and nearly unending hiking trails, but it is also home to a wide variety of wildlife from majestic elk to the iconic bighorn sheep. Over sixty species of mammals, eleven species of fish, hundreds of species of birds, over three hundred different types of insects, and a number of reptiles and amphibians inhabit the park. While we may visit Rocky Mountain National Park, it is important to remember that these animals live here. We are entering their home. Thanks to park protection, they are able to live with little disturbance from humankind.

A typical visitor to Rocky may only see a tiny fraction of the life that thrives within its borders. Mountain lions, bears, bobcats, pine martins, and many of the park’s other occupants are rarely seen by people, but that doesn't mean they haven't seen you. The forests, marshlands, and tundra all teem with life—from the microscopic to the mighty.

Our national parks are not zoos or museums, but places of refuge for many animals. These areas once covered vast portions of our nation. In one sense they are reminders of what has been lost, but in other ways they are places of hope, preserving the diversity of life for tomorrow's restoration. Within the scope of this website there is simply not enough space to look in-depth at the many inhabitants of the park, but let's take a closer look at a few of its more popular residents.

Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bighorn sheep are among the most elusive animals in Rocky Mountain National Park. Learn more about their habits and hangout spots, and how you can see them without disturbing them.

Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park

Many travel to Rocky Mountain National Park, hoping to see bears. Black Bears tend to be pretty reclusive- learn more about them and the steps we must take to ensure our own and their safety.

Coyote in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you spend any time in the lower meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park, it is very likely you will spot a coyote or two on the move. They move quietly but quickly along the edges of the forest.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Without a doubt, the most well-known of residents of Rocky Mountain National Park are its elk. These majestic animals can be found in the park's meadows or high in the tundra.

Moose in Rocky Mountain National Park

The largest creature to inhabit Rocky Mountain National Park is the moose. With its gangly legs, elongated face, dark brown fur, and love of water, it stands apart from the other inhabitants.

Pika in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the very special creatures that lives in Rocky Mountain National Park is the pika. This small little creature lives among the rocks high above tree line and is something of a workaholic.

White-Tailed Ptarmigan in Rocky Mountain National Park

While there are many species of birds that either inhabit or pass through the park, there is none quite like the white-tailed ptarmigan which spends its days at the park's high elevations.

Yellow-Bellied Marmot in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Wildlife Viewing

The aim with watching wildlife is to do it in a way that will not disturb them. Bring a pair of binoculars with you and if you plan to do wildlife photography, bring a long lens for that purpose. I recommend a lens with a reach of at least 400mm.

A good rule of thumb (literally) is to stretch out your arm with your thumb up and try to block your view of the animal with your thumb. If you can still see any of the animal, then you are too close. It is generally recommended that you keep a distance of 75’ (23m) from elk and bighorn sheep. That’s about two bus lengths. For moose and bears you should keep at least 120’ (36m) between you and them. If you notice an animal turning to look at you, that means you are getting too close and should back away.

It should also go without saying that there is never a good time to feed a wild animal. They survive just fine without us and if we begin feeding them, they will develop a dependence on humans and may start to get aggressive around people in their pursuit of food. When that happens, the animal has to be killed. Furthermore, some of the foods that we eat cannot be digested by wild animals and can make them very ill. For the wellbeing of these animals, give them space and do not feed them.