Montane Ecosystem

Moraine Park
Moraine Park

NPS/Crystal Brindle


The Montane ecosystem has the richest diversity of plant and animal life. Meandering rivers and open meadows are surrounded by hilly slopes. Wildflowers blanket the meadows throughout the summer growing season.

Ponderosa Pine bark
Ponderosa Pine bark turns red as the tree ages.


Dry, south-facing slopes of the Montane often have open stands of large ponderosa pines. Spacing of ponderosa pines is somewhat related to available soil moisture. Grasses, other herbs and shrubs may grow between the widely spaced trees on dry slopes. As the pines become old, their bark changes from gray-brown to cinnamon-red, and the bark releases a pleasant fragrance when warmed by the sun. The long needles of ponderosa pines are attached to the stems in groups of two's and three's.
North-facing slopes of the Montane escape some of the sun's drying action, so their soils contain more available water. As a result, the trees grow closer together and competition for sunlight produces a tall, slender growth form. The trees may be a mixture of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and an occasional Engelmann spruce. A few shade-tolerant plants grow on the floor of the forest.
Aspen Trees in a meadow
Old aspen trees in Upper Beaver Meadows


Montane soils with high moisture content may support groves of quaking aspen, whose leaves turn golden-yellow in the autumn and whose whitish bark is easy to recognize. Along streams or the shores of lakes, other water-loving small trees may be found. These include various willows, mountain alder, and water birch with dark-colored bark. In a few places, blue spruce may grow near streams and sometimes hybridize with Engelmann spruce. Flat Montane valleys may frequently have water-logged soil and be unable to support growth of evergreen forests.

The following landmarks in the park are part of the montane ecosystem.

Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park

Moraine Park Horseshoe Park

Kawuneeche Valley and Upper Beaver Meadows


Kawuneeche Valley Upper Beaver Meadows


Follow the links below to learn about life in the Montane.

mountain iris, mule deer, prickly pear cactus
Mountain Iris flowers bloom
in early summer when the
meadows arewet.
Mule Deer are usually found
in small groups in the trees.
Plains prickly pear cactus
bloom even up here in the
Rocky Mountains.

Western tanager, ponderosa pine cone, tent caterpillars

Western Tanagers breed
in the park each summer and
migrate south in the winter.
Ponderosa Pine cones
are intricate compared to the
mighty tree's size.
Insects like these tent
caterpillars are plentiful in
the montane.



Douglas Fir Ponderosa Pine
Lodgepole Pine Quaking aspen


Antelope Bitterbrush Common Juniper Kinnikinnick Wax currant
Big Sage Holly Grape Rocky Mountain Juniper

Herbaceous Plants

Blue Grama Geranium Mariposa Lily Needle and Thread Grass Spike Flower
Blue Columbine Gumweed Miner's Candle Pasque Flower Sulphur Flower
Daisy June Grass Mountain Ball Cactus Penstemon Western Wallflower
Dwarf Mistletoe Locoweed Mountain Muhly Sedge Whiskbroom Parsley


Western Garter Snake


American Crow Great Horned Owl Pygmy Nuthatch Tree Swallow
American Robin Mountain Chickadee Raven Western Bluebird
Black-Billed Magpie Mountain Bluebird Red Crossbill Western Tanager
Cassin's Finch Northern Flicker Solitary Vireo Western Wood Pee Wee
Common Nighthawk Northern Goshawk Stellar's Jay Woodpecker (Downy and Hairy)
Golden Eagle Pine Siskin Townsend's Solitaire Yellow-Rump Warbler


Abert's Squirrel Chipmunk Meadow Vole Otter
Badger Coyote Montane Shrew Porcupine
Bighorn Sheep Deer Mouse Moose Skunk
Black Bear Elk Mountain Lion Yellow-Bellied Marmot
Bobcat Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel Mule Deer
Bushy-Tailed Wood Rat Long-Tailed Weasel Nuttall's Cottontail


Last updated: April 21, 2015

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Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


(970) 586-1206
Through winter, the Information Office is open 8:00 am–4:30 pm Mon–Fri. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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