Wildlife Observing

A large bull elk chasing after two other elk.
Bull elk chasing two other elk as captured by a camera with a telephoto lens.

NPS/Corey Lycopolus

Valles Caldera is home to the second largest elk population in New Mexico. Other popular residents include Gunnison prairie dogs, coyotes, badgers, black bears, mountain bluebirds, bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and kestrels.

Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence.

Safe Viewing Tips

Wildlife are truly wild and in their natural environment in Valles Caldera. Therefore, they will protect themselves and their young from any perceived threats. Please follow these safety tips for a positive experience for both you and the wildlife.

  • Keep a safe distance from all wildlife: a minimum of 100 yards (91 m). If you notice a change in behavior, then you have gotten too close.
  • Use roadside pullouts when observing wildlife.
  • Use spotting scopes at the visitor facilities, binoculars, or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing wildlife.
  • Mornings and evenings are good times to observe wildlife.
  • When exploring the park, take a moment to stop, look around, and listen. A lot of wildlife can be observed in this way.

Remember, it is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces them.

Also be sure to visit our page that provides advice about bear and mountain lion safety.

Graphic showing a safe wildlife viewing distance of 100 yards (91 m).
Stay safe and keep wildlife WILD: stay back at least 100 yards (91 m). That's about 9 school buses, 1 football pitch, or 1 Statue of Liberty laying down.



Frequently Observed Mammals

Learn more about the top 3 mammals observed at Valles Caldera.

An elk with large antlers walks through a montane grassland.

Approximately 2,500 elk call Valles Caldera home.

Two prairie dogs stand next to each other in a grassy environment.
Prairie Dogs

Gunnison's prairie dogs are many park visitors' first wildlife encounter.

A coyote climbs a grassy slope.

Coyotes are frequently spotted hunting near the park's Entrance Station.


Last updated: February 29, 2024

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Contact Info

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090 Villa Louis Martin Dr.
Jemez Springs, NM 87025


Ranger Station (for general park information)

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