Wildlife Watching in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is surrounded by protected lands that offer natural habitat to hundreds of animal species, including those in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Deer in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cradled on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park and edged by the national forest on the fourth, Estes Park offers up changes to see wildlife. Nearby environments are home to more than 63 species of animals, including bear, deer, elusive mountain lion and bobcat and bighorn sheep. Whether you're walking around quieter sections of Estes Park, taking a scenic drive, or traveling Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, chances are good that you'll see some wildlife. 

Where to Look

In the village, herds of elk and deer lunch on the golf courses and stroll down the streets.

In Rocky Mountain National Park, animals sometimes linger near Moraine Park or Horseshoe Park. Bighorn sheep cozy up to mineral licks distributed around aptly named Sheep Lakes.

Mule deer are most often seen past Trail Ridge Road's Alpine Visitor Center, on the western side of the park. These incredible creatures can occasionally be spotted in the Wild Basin area near Cub Lake or along Fall River Road.

Bears are occasionally spotted in the park or near town, when not hibernating. Please take precautions to secure food in order to protect the bears, the people exploring their habitat and other personal property.

Large cats in the area include mountain lion, bobcat and the rare Canadian lynx. Mountain lions are very stealthy and difficult to spot. Bobcats and lynx look very similar, but if you spot one, you've likely just seen a bobcat! Bobcats can be found in the park as well as in and around Estes Park.

More Estes Park Activities

While the larger mammals get the glory, the little creatures get the smiles. These can be seen quite often, especially around picnic areas and in the open meadows (though please keep in mind that it is illegal and unhealthy to feed them). Chipmunks, ground squirrels and rabbits frolic and scurry through the park and parts of Estes Park. Beavers may be found along the waterways around town and the park, while otters make their homes by the Colorado River on the west side of the park. In the higher elevations and in the alpine tundra (above the tree line), look out for marmots and pikas.

Birders flock to this region lured by the more than 300 species that flit among the trees in a bird sanctuary by Lake Estes and in the national park, which is a designated Global Important Bird Area. The more notable species in the area that also encompasses Roosevelt National Forest include red-tailed hawks, whitetailed ptarmigan, blue dusky grouse, three toed woodpeckers, mountain chickadees and Northern pygmy owls. To stack your odds of observing animals, head out at dawn or dusk.

Things to Remember

• Binoculars or a telephoto camera lens enables you to view wildlife closely without infringing on their space.
• Females with young might become aggressive. Even gentle-appearing deer can be dangerous, especially during the mating season. If the animals seem edgy, back away quietly.
• If you see a crowd of cars stopped alongside the road, chances are good someone has spotted an animal. Stop and park off the roadway if you can do so safely.
• Remain quiet so you won't scare the animals and keep all pets inside the car.

By keeping safety in mind, you ensure a positive experience for you — and for the animal that has just made your visit to Estes Park that much more memorable. After all, you just encountered a true native!

More Estes Park Activities

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