Rocky Mountain National Park visitors have a passion for viewing wild animals, especially the big ones. With an elk herd numbering between 600 to 800 in the winter, about 350 bighorn sheep, numerous mule deer and a small population of moose calling the park home, it's no surprise that wildlife watching is rated the number-one activity by a vast majority of Rocky's three million annual visitors.
Wildlife Viewing Tips
The park's great large-animal population makes it one of the country's top wildlife watching destinations. But there is much more to see than these so-called "charismatic megafauna." Also found are nearly 60 other species of mammals; more than 280 recorded bird species; six amphibians, including the federally endangered boreal toad; one reptile (the harmless garter snake); 11 species of fish; and countless insects, including a surprisingly large number of butterflies.
Some basic knowledge of animal habits and habitats greatly enhances prospects of spotting Rocky Mountain's wild residents. A few park favorites:
Despite their good intentions, some wildlife watchers are loving park animals to death. Feeding junk food to wildlife reduces its ability to survive the long mountain winter. When they panhandle by roadsides, animals fall easy prey to automobiles. As they become habituated to humans and lose their natural fear, the animals become aggressive and may be destroyed. Harassing or feeding wildlife is illegal in all national parks.
Wildlife Photography Tips
When you spot wildlife, getting a great photo or video from the safe distance isn’t too hard if you follow our advice. Although mobile device cameras are convenient, you may want to bring along a camera that has a zoom lens for better zoomed-in photos of wildlife. Keep at least 75 feet or two bus-lengths away from all wildlife in the park, and we recommend at least 120 feet or three bus-lengths away from more dangerous animals like black bears, moose, and mountain lions.
Last updated: April 7, 2023