Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife

As the snow thaws and National Parks throughout the North West polish off their signs and re-vamp the trail routes, tourists and locals from all over start to head out and enjoy the outdoors once again. While we may like to think humans are the only inhabitants of these gorgeous wonders, animals throughout the forest are also coming back to life and heading to the hills for some sunshine and fresh food!

Rocky Mountain National Park is a bucket list item for many all over the country. It is important to remember each National Park is different and unique in their own way, including the different animals that inhabit these areas. Be aware and check with the information center before heading out on a new trail!

Learn more about these popular wildlife animals you may encounter while staying in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Bighorn sheep sitting on the edge of a cliff

1) Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep can usually be found on the side of a cliff or walking about in packs with their massive horns. Easy to spot because of those bighorns the males, called rams, are famous for their large, curled horns (weighing around 30 lbs). These impressive growths are a symbol of status and a weapon used in epic battles across the Rocky Mountains. While not the most dangerous animal you may encounter in the Rockies, keep your distance as these horns are not something to be seen up close! Keep even more distance during mating season when the males go to battle over mating rights. Mating takes place in the fall and in lower-elevation mountain pastures.

2) Elk

Not to be confused with a deer or a moose, elk travel in packs and are usually larger than a typical deer and smaller than a moose. They gather in the open meadows and are easily visible when left undisturbed. Like the bighorn sheep, these animals use their antlers in violent clashes that determine who gets to mate with whom. Males with the bigger antlers, typically older animals, usually win these battles and dominate small herds. (You should not even be NEAR this area when that happens!). Take a listen to the Bull Elk’s mating call!

Fact: A bull (male) elk’s antlers may reach 4 feet above its head, so that the animal towers 9 feet tall.


3) The Mountain Lion

Also known as pumas, cougars or panthers these animals are a distinguishing face of the western Rockies. Easy to distinguish with their tan coat and cat like behavior these guys usually stay away from any human activity if they can help it. While they may observe your moves from a distance they are not known to attack people unless provoked. While this may ease the butterflies in your stomach just a tad, it is still worthy to mention their power in the mountains. If you do happen to see a lion, stop and do not run. Maintain eye contact and do all you can to appear larger. Speak calmly to the lion in a firm, calm voice. If attacked, fight back.

Fact: They can leap as high as 18 feet vertically and cover 40 feet horizontally in one bound.

4) Red-tailed Hawks

On a lighter note let’s move on to something that will most definitely not come after you in the middle of the night. Red-tailed Hawks can be seen throughout the year in the Rockies but may move to lower elevations in the height of winter. These birds of prey reach maturity at about three years old, and mate in the spring. (Be on the look-out!). Scientists believe they mate for life, and return to the same nest site for years. Head out with your binoculars as their nests usually sit 30 to 60 feet above or on the ledge of a high cliff. They may often hunt in open meadows outside the park where one of their principle prey, the ground squirrel, is abundant.

Male Moose sitting in a pasture

5) Moose

The larger animal that most are actually looking for, the moose. The largest member of the deer family and one of the hardest to find while backpacking through the Rocky Mountains. Large males can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds while females are roughly three-quarters of this size! Unlike most members of the deer family these animals are usually solitary and are not very territorial. (Maybe because they can easily trample anything in their way!) Moose can eat up to 70 pounds of food per day. They remember their favorite feeding areas and predictably return to favorite seasonal habitats. Usually found near the water as this is the best vegetation for them and they can even swim! Usually a waiting game take a seat and enjoy these majestic creatures!

Live Outside and Play Crew sitting outside in Crazy Creek Chairs with maps and drinks in hand.

Photo Credit: @liveoutsideandplay

Camping in primitive spots throughout the forest may be your best bet in spotting some of these beautiful creatures. Don’t get stuck sitting on a cold rock in the back country, gear up and take along a handy Crazy Creek Camping Chair. The Hex 2.0 Original Chair is perfect to fold up and strap to your bag as an easy out of the way option. Set up shop, take out the binoculars and enjoy what the park has to offer!


Photo Credit: @melissaprincess

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