Wildlife Safety

A graphic showing safe viewing distances for elk and sheep (75 feet) and moose and bears (120 feet).
 

It can be hard to believe that a safe distance is as much about the animal’s welfare as it is about yours, but it’s true. Getting too close, feeding, and touching are all things that can put you and your furry, feathered, or scaled counterpart in grave danger. While Rocky Mountain National Park is a conscientious partner for visitors, it also remains continuously committed to the protection and preservation of nature and wildlife.

Despite their good intentions, some visitors love park animals to death. As wildlife become used to humans and lose their natural fear, the animals become aggressive and may be destroyed. Although they may appear harmless and even curious about you, wildlife do injure visitors every year. That’s partly why approaching, harassing, or feeding any kind of wildlife, no matter how small or familiar, is illegal in all national parks.

 

We want all visitors to create lasting memories, so be safe and remember that distance always makes the heart grow fonder.

 

How close is too close?
Stay at least 75 feet (23 meters) or about two bus-lengths away from all wildlife. We advise keeping at least 120 feet (36 meters) or about three bus-lengths away from black bears, moose, and mountain lions. Stay safe and never assume you are the one that can get away with a close encounter.

What should you do if you meet a mountain lion?
Never approach a mountain lion especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation. Always give them a way to escape. Don't run. Stay calm. Hold your ground or back away slowly. Face the lion and stand upright. Do all you can to appear larger. Grab a stick. Raise your arms. If you have small children with you, pick them up. If the lion behaves aggressively, wave your arms, shout and throw objects at it. The goal is to convince it that you are not prey and may be dangerous yourself. If attacked, fight back! Generally, mountain lions are calm, quiet, and elusive. The chance of being attacked by a mountain lion is quite low compared to many other natural hazards. There is, for example, a far greater risk of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a mountain lion. Report all incidents to a park ranger.

What should you do if you meet a black bear?
Never approach a bear. Keep children beside you. There is more safety in numbers; it is best to travel in a close group. If a bear approaches you, stand up tall, and make loud noises- shout, clap hands, clang pots and pans. When done immediately, these actions have been successful in scaring bears away. However, if attacked, fight back! Never try and retrieve anything once a bear has it. Report all incidents to a park ranger.

What if I really want the perfect photo?
The popularity of selfies and capturing any moment through photographs or video is posing a new threat to wildlife and humans. Trigger-happy tourists have started to provoke animals, and in some instances, alter their behaviors as a result. Quietly watching from a distance can be even more rewarding than getting the perfect shot. Perhaps you even came here to “get away” from a busy lifestyle and technology. So, use your zoom or a telephoto lens, or put your camera down and take a moment to really appreciate what you see.

 
A symbolic icon of a camera

See our Wildlife Viewing and Photography page for tips on how to get a great photo or video from a safe distance.

 

What if I want to get an animal’s attention?
Calling, clicking, whistling or making noises of any kind to attract wildlife is illegal. Animals deserve to enjoy the park without disruption just as you do.

If there’s a group of people, is it safer to be near wildlife?
Traveling in groups can help keep you safe, but that does not mean you are safer to get closer to animals. Whether it’s just you or 20 people, keep the long distance. As crowds gather (as they often do), wildlife can quickly feel threatened and, in their panic, harm people. This is especially the case as people start to surround the animal(s), even if they are at the proper distance, because the wildlife may feel trapped. If people around you stop maintaining the safe distance, don’t be afraid to speak up and remind your fellow visitors of the safe distance rules. Sometimes, in the moment, anyone could use a gentle reminder that long-distance relationships with wildlife are better for everyone.

What if an animal approaches me?
Wildlife may not know better, but YOU do. Although it may feel flattering, if any kind of wildlife approaches you, back away and maintain that safe distance. It’s your responsibility and your safety—help us keep wildlife wild.

Can I feed the animals?
Perhaps you’ve fed animals in petting zoos before, but national parks are different. Help us keep this place and these animals unique by never feeding them.

Feeding wildlife is prohibited. Even feeding animals grass from the park or other food you think might be harmless is not allowed. This is for their safety as well as yours.

Wildlife will invade food left unattended, even those in bear-proof containers or coolers. Store food in your vehicle’s trunk, out of sight, with the windows completely closed, or in site-provided storage lockers. Use our wildlife-proof containers to dispose trash, and ensure you clean up all food particles.

Food, coolers, and dirty cookware left unattended, even for a short time, are subject to confiscation by park rangers and citations.

What if an animal begs for food?
Animals can easily pick up scavenging practices, so never feed them. Animals stay healthier when you do not feed them. And, once they learn to beg, they can become aggressive, more likely to get injured by vehicles, and become seriously ill. They do not need your food handouts to survive. You can help us curtail this unwanted behavior from animals by putting your food away and moving away from the animal. Ask a ranger for other ways you can help.

Ah, but what harm could one person really do when they get too close or toss a piece of food to an animal? I’ve been up close to wildlife before!
Some of us might think of ourselves as “animal whisperers” or be really familiar with certain kinds. We can certainly appreciate that, but consider using your gift to help our national parks be a place where wildlife can be wild. That’s why you and all of our other guests have come to appreciate these special places. Be a role model to others in your family or group and even other visitors by embodying our mission to protect and preserve our wildlife.

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:

  • Diseases
  • 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
  • Injuries
  • Young wildlife may be abandoned

Last updated: September 11, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:

(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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