Search
Close this search box.
Animals in RMNP

27 Amazing Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

Have you ever been on a hike and suddenly stumbled upon a majestic elk grazing in a meadow or caught a glimpse of a sly fox darting through the underbrush? In the awe-inspiring wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), such encounters are not uncommon. With its diverse range of habitats and an incredible array of animal species, the park offers wildlife enthusiasts a chance to observe these creatures in their natural environment. In this blog post, we’ll share some expert tips on how to spot animals in RMNP, while respecting their space and ensuring their safety. So, grab your binoculars and your sense of adventure, and let’s explore the wild side of RMNP!





Table of Contents

Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

Intro to Rocky Mountain National Park

Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park, a remarkable destination that boasts a diverse array of ecosystems and habitats, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The park’s unique environment encompasses three distinct ecological zones: montane, subalpine, and alpine tundra. Each of these zones provides a home to a variety of flora and fauna, creating an incredible mosaic of life that can be explored and appreciated by visitors from all walks of life.

The montane zone, which lies at lower elevations, is characterized by lush meadows, dense forests, and riparian habitats that support a rich diversity of wildlife, such as elk, black bears, and various bird species. As you ascend into the subalpine zone, the landscape transforms into a mix of coniferous forests and meadows, providing refuge to animals like mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pikas. Finally, the alpine tundra zone, found above the treeline, offers a harsh but stunning environment where only the hardiest species like ptarmigans, marmots, and mountain goats can thrive.

This guide to animals in Rocky Mountain National Park will help you explore and appreciate the incredible variety of life that calls this remarkable place home.





The Montane Zone (Below 9,000 ft)

The Montane ecosystem in Rocky Mountain National Park, found at elevations below 9,000 ft, is characterized by lush meadows, dense forests, and abundant wildlife. This lower elevation zone is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including ponderosa pines, aspen groves, and Douglas-fir trees. Visitors to this region can enjoy the sight of grazing elk, mule deer, and wild turkeys, while black bears and mountain lions roam the forested areas.

The Subalpine Zone (9,000-11,000 ft)

The Subalpine ecosystem in Rocky Mountain National Park, spanning elevations between 9,000 and 11,000 feet, is characterized by dense coniferous forests, rolling meadows, and crystal-clear lakes. As the elevation increases, visitors will notice a transition from ponderosa pines to lodgepole pines, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir trees. This middle elevation zone hosts a variety of wildlife, including moose, bighorn sheep, and various bird species. The serene beauty of the Subalpine ecosystem offers opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife watching.

The Alpine Zone (Above 11,000 ft)

The Alpine Tundra ecosystem in Rocky Mountain National Park, found at elevations above 11,000 feet, is a unique and fragile environment marked by its treeless, windswept landscape. Due to the harsh weather conditions and short growing season, vegetation is limited to small, hardy plants that can withstand cold temperatures and strong winds. The fauna in this high elevation zone is also specially adapted to the challenging environment, with animals such as pikas, marmots, and ptarmigans calling this rugged terrain home. Visitors to the Alpine Tundra can enjoy sweeping vistas, stunning wildflower displays, and the opportunity to witness hardy wildlife thriving in this extreme environment.





Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park: A Complete Guide

Here are some of the most interesting mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles found in Rocky Mountain National Park. Click an animal to learn more about them and see a picture and fun fact.

black bear in rocky mountain national park

American Black Bear

  • Scientific Name: Ursus americanus​
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-10,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in forested areas, especially near berry patches or other food sources
  • Fun Fact: Black bears can climb trees to escape threats or find food

Black bears are the only current bear species in Rocky Mountain National Park. Adaptable and opportunistic omnivores, they primarily inhabit the montane zone, although they can sometimes be found in higher elevations as well. These majestic creatures can weigh between 200 and 600 pounds, and their fur color ranges from black to cinnamon brown.

During the summer months, black bears roam the park in search of food, including berries, nuts, insects, and small mammals. They are agile climbers and excellent swimmers, often scaling trees to escape perceived threats or to access food. Although black bears are generally shy and avoid human contact, it’s important for park visitors to exercise caution and practice proper food storage to prevent attracting them.

If you’re lucky enough to spot a black bear in its natural habitat at Rocky Mountain National Park, remember to keep a safe distance and admire these magnificent animals from afar. Their presence is a testament to the park’s healthy and diverse ecosystem and a thrilling sight for nature enthusiasts.

Learn more about black bears.

Moose

  • Scientific Name: Alces alces
  • Common Elevation: 9,000-11,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in wetland areas, near streams, or around ponds and lakes
  • Fun Fact: Moose are excellent swimmers and can dive underwater to reach aquatic plants

Moose are the largest members of the deer family and are well-known for their impressive size and distinctive appearance, featuring long legs and a humped shoulder region. Their large, broad antlers on males can span up to six feet across. In Rocky Mountain National Park, moose are commonly found in the sub-alpine zone, particularly near wetlands and riparian areas where they feed on aquatic plants and willow shrubs.

During the summer months, moose can be seen foraging in marshy areas or wading in shallow waters, consuming vast quantities of vegetation to sustain their large bodies. They are surprisingly agile for their size and are excellent swimmers, even diving underwater to reach aquatic plants.

As awe-inspiring as moose can be, it’s crucial for park visitors to maintain a safe distance when observing these animals. Moose may appear docile but can become aggressive and charge if they feel threatened or cornered. By respecting their space and observing from a safe distance, you can enjoy the presence of these majestic creatures while preserving the park’s unique ecosystem.

Click here to learn more.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park Elk

  • Scientific Name: Cervus canadensis
  • Common Elevation: 7,000-10,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in meadows, especially during early morning and late afternoon hours
  • Interesting Fact: Male elk, known as bulls, engage in dramatic displays of strength during the fall mating season, called the rut

Elk are one of the most iconic species found in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are large, social animals that inhabit a variety of ecosystems within the park, but are most frequently seen in the montane and sub-alpine zones. Elk are known for their impressive size and the large antlers sported by males, which can grow up to four feet in length.

During the summer months, elk can be spotted grazing in meadows and open grasslands, often in large groups. The early morning and late afternoon hours are prime times to catch a glimpse of these graceful animals as they move between feeding and resting areas. In the fall, the park comes alive with the sounds of bugling elk during the rut, as bulls engage in intense displays of strength to establish dominance and secure mating rights.

When observing elk in their natural habitat, it’s essential to maintain a safe distance and avoid approaching or disturbing the animals. Both male and female elk can become aggressive if they feel threatened, especially during the rut or when they have calves nearby. By respecting their space and observing from a safe distance, you can enjoy the beauty of these magnificent animals while protecting the delicate balance of the park’s ecosystem.

Click here to learn more about Elk.

Mountain Lion

  • Scientific Name: Puma concolor
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-12,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Mountain lions are elusive and primarily active during dawn, dusk, and night hours
  • Interesting Fact: Mountain lions are solitary animals with large territories that can range from 30 to 125 square miles

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are one of the most elusive and secretive large predators in Rocky Mountain National Park. Although sightings are rare, these powerful animals inhabit a wide range of elevations and ecosystems within the park, from montane forests to alpine tundra. Mountain lions are incredibly agile and stealthy, with a muscular build that enables them to ambush their prey and navigate steep, rugged terrain with ease.

Due to their elusive nature and primarily nocturnal habits, spotting a mountain lion in the park can be a rare and unforgettable experience. These solitary creatures have expansive home ranges and are most active during dawn, dusk, and night hours when they hunt for prey, such as deer, elk, and smaller mammals.

In the unlikely event that you encounter a mountain lion during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s essential to know how to react. Maintain eye contact, make yourself appear larger by raising your arms, and speak firmly to assert your presence. Do not run or turn your back on the animal, as this may trigger a chase response. By being prepared and respectful of the park’s wild inhabitants, you can help ensure a safe and memorable experience for yourself and future visitors.

Click here to learn more about mountain lions.

Bobcat

  • Scientific Name: Lynx rufus​
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-10,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for bobcats in wooded areas and along the edges of meadows during dawn and dusk
  • Interesting Fact: Bobcats are skilled climbers and swimmers, and their hind legs are longer than their front legs, giving them excellent jumping ability

Bobcats are medium-sized wildcats that inhabit various ecosystems in Rocky Mountain National Park, from montane forests to subalpine meadows. They have a distinctive appearance with their tufted ears, short tails, and spotted fur that provides excellent camouflage in their natural environment. Bobcats are highly adaptable and skilled hunters, preying on a variety of animals such as rabbits, rodents, birds, and occasionally larger prey like deer.

These elusive predators are most active during dawn and dusk when they stalk and ambush their prey. Spotting a bobcat in the park can be a rare and thrilling experience due to their secretive nature and excellent camouflage. Keep an eye out for them in wooded areas and along the edges of meadows, where they might be hunting or resting.

If you are fortunate enough to spot a bobcat during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s essential to respect their space and observe from a distance. Do not approach or attempt to feed them, as this can be dangerous for both you and the animal. By being mindful of the park’s wild inhabitants, you can help ensure a safe and memorable experience for yourself and future visitors.

Coyote

  • Scientific Name: Canis latrans
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-10,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in open grasslands and meadows, especially during dawn and dusk
  • Interesting Fact: Coyotes are known for their vocalizations, which include yips, barks, and howls

Coyotes are highly adaptable canids that can be found throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, primarily in the montane and subalpine zones. They are smaller than wolves, weighing between 20 and 50 pounds, with a tawny-gray coat and a bushy tail. As opportunistic omnivores, their diet consists of small mammals, insects, fruit, and carrion.

These intelligent and resourceful animals have a strong sense of smell and remarkable agility, enabling them to thrive in various environments. Coyotes are known for their wide range of vocalizations, which they use to communicate with other pack members and establish territory boundaries. They are most active during dawn and dusk, a behavior called crepuscular activity.

When observing coyotes in the park, maintain a safe distance and avoid feeding or approaching them. Properly securing food and garbage in campgrounds and picnic areas is essential to prevent habituation and protect both the animals and park visitors.

Beaver in Rocky Mountain National Park Beaver

  • Scientific Name: Castor canadensis
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-9,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them near lakes, ponds, and streams where they build their lodges
  • Interesting Fact: Beavers are known as ecosystem engineers due to their ability to transform landscapes by constructing dams

Beavers are large, semi-aquatic rodents that inhabit various regions of North America, including Rocky Mountain National Park. They are most commonly found in the montane zone, particularly near bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, and streams. Beavers are known for their exceptional ability to fell trees and construct lodges and dams, which can create wetlands and alter the surrounding landscape.

These fascinating creatures play a vital role in maintaining the park’s ecosystem, as their dams can slow down water flow, allowing sediment to settle and creating a habitat for various plants and animals. Beavers are primarily nocturnal and can be elusive, but if you’re near a body of water, keep an eye out for their distinctive lodges and dams. Remember to observe from a distance and respect their natural habitat.

Mule Deer in Rocky Mountain National Park Mule Deer

  • Scientific Name: Odocoileus hemionus
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-11,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in open meadows, forested areas, and near the edges of aspen groves
  • Interesting Fact: Mule deer have a unique bounding gait called “stotting,” where all four legs leave the ground simultaneously

Mule deer are a common sight in Rocky Mountain National Park, where they can be found throughout the montane and subalpine zones. They are named for their large, mule-like ears, which help them detect predators and other potential threats. Mule deer are herbivores, feeding on a variety of plant material, including grasses, shrubs, and trees.

These deer are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours, making these times ideal for spotting them. Mule deer are generally not aggressive, but it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and should be observed from a safe distance. By giving these creatures space and respecting their habitat, you’ll contribute to their continued presence in the park and ensure a memorable experience for all visitors.

Bald eagle in Rocky Mountain National Park Bald Eagle

  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-10,000 feet​
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them near rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water where they can find fish
  • Interesting Fact: Bald eagles can reach diving speeds of up to 100 mph when hunting for prey

Bald eagles are an iconic symbol of American wildlife and can be spotted in Rocky Mountain National Park, often near bodies of water where they hunt for fish. They inhabit both the montane and subalpine zones of the park, with their massive nests often built high up in large trees. Bald eagles are known for their striking white head and tail feathers, which contrast sharply with their dark brown bodies.

These majestic birds of prey have a wingspan of up to 8 feet, making them an impressive sight as they soar through the skies. In addition to fish, their diet also includes small mammals, waterfowl, and carrion. Bald eagles were once endangered but have made a remarkable recovery due to conservation efforts.

When observing bald eagles in Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s essential to give them plenty of space and avoid disturbing their nests. By respecting these magnificent creatures and their habitat, you’ll help ensure their continued presence in the park and create a memorable experience for all visitors.

Ptarmigan in Rocky Mountain National Park Ptarmigan

  • Scientific Name: Lagopus muta​
  • Common Elevation: 11,000 feet and above
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in rocky areas and alpine tundra
  • Interesting Fact: Ptarmigans change color with the seasons, becoming white in winter to blend in with the snow

Ptarmigans are unique, ground-dwelling birds that can be found in the alpine tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, particularly above 11,000 feet. They are well-adapted to their harsh environment, with feathered legs and feet that act as insulation and snowshoes in the cold and snowy conditions.

These fascinating birds change their plumage with the seasons: their feathers turn white during the winter to help them blend in with the snowy landscape, while they adopt a mottled brown and gray appearance in the summer to camouflage with the rocky terrain. Ptarmigans primarily feed on buds, leaves, seeds, and insects.

When observing ptarmigans in the park, be patient and keep a respectful distance. Their excellent camouflage can make them difficult to spot, but with keen eyes and a bit of luck, you may be rewarded with a glimpse of these intriguing alpine inhabitants. Remember to tread lightly and minimize your impact on their delicate habitat, ensuring that future generations can also enjoy the unique experience of spotting ptarmigans in the wild.

Cutthroat Trout

  • Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus clarkii
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-10,000 feet, in cold, clear streams and lakes
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in clean, cold water habitats, such as mountain streams and lakes
  • Interesting Fact: The cutthroat trout is named for the red-orange slashes on the lower jaw

Cutthroat trout are native to the western United States and can be found in the cold, clear waters of Rocky Mountain National Park, primarily between 6,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. They inhabit streams, rivers, and lakes, where they feed on insects, smaller fish, and other aquatic organisms.

These striking fish get their name from the vivid red or orange slashes on their lower jaw, which give them a distinct appearance. There are several subspecies of cutthroat trout, with the Greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomias) being native to the park and designated as Colorado’s state fish.

Fishing is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park with a valid Colorado fishing license, and many anglers enjoy the challenge of catching these beautiful fish. However, it’s essential to follow park regulations and practice catch-and-release methods, especially for the Greenback cutthroat trout, which is a threatened species. By respecting their habitat and adhering to park guidelines, visitors can help protect these unique and beautiful fish for generations to come.

Great Horned Owl in Rocky Mountain National Park Great Horned Owl

  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Common Elevation: 5,000-11,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in forested areas or perched on branches during the early morning or late evening hours
  • Interesting Fact: Great horned owls have a wingspan of up to five feet and are known for their distinctive “hoot” calls

The great horned owl is a widespread and adaptable species found throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, from the montane to the subalpine zones. These impressive birds of prey prefer forested habitats and are easily recognized by their large size, tufted “ears,” and piercing yellow eyes.

With a wingspan of up to five feet, great horned owls are powerful hunters, feeding on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and even other raptors. They are most active during the early morning and late evening hours, making these times the best for spotting them in the park.

The haunting “hoot” call of the great horned owl is a familiar sound in the park’s forests, particularly during their breeding season in the winter and early spring. If you’re fortunate enough to spot one of these majestic birds while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure to keep a respectful distance and enjoy the opportunity to witness a top predator in its natural environment.

American Pika

  • Scientific Name: Ochotona princeps
  • Common Elevation: 11,000 feet and above
  • Spotting Tip: Listen for their high-pitched “eeek” calls and search for them among talus slopes and rocky areas
  • Interesting Fact: Pikas do not hibernate, instead they gather “haypiles” of vegetation during summer to store for winter consumption

The American pika is a small, charismatic mammal often found in the alpine tundra zone of Rocky Mountain National Park. These adorable creatures, related to rabbits and hares, are well-adapted to their high-elevation habitat, where they can be seen scurrying among rocks and boulders.

Pikas are most active during the day, particularly in the morning and late afternoon. Listen for their high-pitched “eeek” calls as they communicate with one another or alert others to potential threats. To spot them, focus your attention on talus slopes and rocky areas where they create their dens.

Unlike many other alpine animals, pikas do not hibernate during the winter. Instead, they spend the summer months busily gathering and storing vegetation in “haypiles” to see them through the colder months. Due to their sensitivity to warmer temperatures, pikas are considered an indicator species for climate change, and researchers are closely monitoring their populations. When observing pikas in Rocky Mountain National Park, be mindful not to disturb their habitat or stress these fragile animals.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

  • Scientific Name:​ Marmota flaviventris
  • Common Elevation:​ 9,500-13,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them sunning on rocks or boulders in subalpine and alpine tundra areas
  • Interesting Fact: Marmots are known for their loud, high-pitched whistle, which they use as an alarm call to warn others of potential threats

Yellow-bellied marmots are large, ground-dwelling rodents commonly found in the subalpine and alpine tundra zones of Rocky Mountain National Park. These social animals live in colonies and are known for their distinctive, high-pitched whistle, which they use to communicate with each other and to warn of approaching danger.

During the summer months, marmots are frequently seen sunning themselves on rocks or boulders. They are most active in the morning and late afternoon, foraging for a variety of vegetation, including grasses, flowers, and seeds. To spot yellow-bellied marmots in the park, focus on rocky terrain where they create their burrows.

Marmots hibernate for about eight months of the year, with their bodies adapting to the long period of dormancy by slowing down their metabolism and heart rate. When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure to give marmots their space, as they are easily stressed by human presence. Observing these fascinating creatures from a distance allows them to continue their natural behaviors without disturbance.

Hoary Bat

  • Scientific Name: Lasiurus cinereus
  • Common Elevation: 6,500-10,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Watch for them at dusk when they emerge to feed on insects
  • Interesting Fact: Hoary bats are solitary and migrate long distances, with some traveling over 1,000 miles

Hoary bats are the largest bats found in Rocky Mountain National Park, with a wingspan of up to 16 inches. Their fur is a mix of gray, brown, and white, giving them a frosted or “hoary” appearance. These elusive creatures are typically found in the montane and subalpine zones, roosting in trees during the day and emerging at dusk to feed on insects.

Hoary bats are solitary animals, preferring to roost alone rather than in colonies like other bat species. They are known for their impressive migration abilities, with some individuals traveling over 1,000 miles between their summer and winter habitats. Hoary bats play a crucial role in the park’s ecosystem by controlling insect populations.

When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, remember that hoary bats are sensitive to human disturbance, so it’s important to respect their space and avoid approaching or handling them. If you’re fortunate enough to spot one of these beautiful bats, enjoy the experience from a distance and appreciate their contribution to the park’s diverse ecosystem.

Boreal Toad in Rocky Mountain National Park Boreal Toad

  • Scientific Name: Anaxyrus boreas
  • Common Elevation: 8,000-11,500 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them near wetlands, ponds, and streams in the subalpine zone
  • Interesting Fact: Boreal toads can secrete a toxic substance from their skin as a defense mechanism

Boreal toads are a high-elevation amphibian species found primarily in the subalpine zone of Rocky Mountain National Park. They prefer wetland habitats near ponds, streams, and marshy areas, where they can find an abundance of insects and other invertebrates to eat. Boreal toads are easily identified by their large, round parotoid glands, which are located behind their eyes.

These fascinating amphibians are known for their ability to secrete a toxic substance called bufotoxin from their skin. This defense mechanism helps deter predators and protect the toads from being eaten. Unfortunately, Boreal toads have experienced significant declines in recent years, partly due to habitat loss and the spread of a deadly fungal disease called chytridiomycosis.

When exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s important to remember that Boreal toads are a sensitive species. Visitors should avoid handling or disturbing them and maintain a respectful distance if they spot one. By doing so, we can help protect these unique creatures and the delicate ecosystems they call home.

Stellar's Jay in Rocky Mountain National Park Stellar’s Jay

  • Scientific Name: Cyanocitta stelleri
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-12,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Listen for their distinctive, harsh calls in mixed conifer forests
  • Interesting Fact: Steller’s jays are known to mimic the calls of other birds and even some mammals

Steller’s jays are a strikingly beautiful bird species found throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, inhabiting mixed conifer forests in both montane and subalpine zones. They are easily recognized by their dark blue plumage, black crested head, and white eyebrow markings. These intelligent birds are part of the Corvid family, which also includes crows and ravens.

One fascinating aspect of the Steller’s jay is its ability to mimic the calls of other birds and even some mammals. This skill is thought to help them deceive potential predators or drive away competition for food resources. Steller’s jays are primarily omnivorous, feeding on a diet that includes insects, fruits, seeds, and occasionally small animals.

When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, keep an ear out for the distinctive, harsh calls of the Steller’s jay. If you’re fortunate enough to spot one, take a moment to appreciate its stunning colors and clever behavior. These charismatic birds are just one of the many incredible wildlife species that make the park such a diverse and captivating destination.

Mountain Bluebird in Rocky Mountain National Park Mountain Bluebird

  • Scientific Name: Sialia currucoides
  • Common Elevation: 5,000-11,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them perched on low branches in open areas near meadows and grasslands
  • Interesting Fact: Mountain bluebirds can hover in mid-air while hunting for insects

Mountain bluebirds are a beautiful and iconic bird species found in Rocky Mountain National Park, primarily in montane and subalpine zones. They are known for their stunning, bright blue plumage, which is more vibrant in males than females. These birds prefer open habitats such as meadows, grasslands, and areas with scattered trees.

One of the most interesting aspects of mountain bluebirds is their hunting technique. They can hover in mid-air, similar to a hummingbird, while searching for insects on the ground. Once they spot their prey, they swoop down and snatch it up with their beak. Their diet mainly consists of insects, but they also consume berries and other small fruits.

When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, keep your eyes peeled for mountain bluebirds perched on low branches or fence posts in open areas. Their vibrant blue color and agile hunting skills make them a captivating sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. The presence of mountain bluebirds contributes to the park’s rich biodiversity and offers visitors a glimpse of its unique avian life.

Peregrine Falcon in Rocky Mountain National Park Peregrine Falcon

  • Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
  • Common Elevation: 4,000-12,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Scan cliff faces and high ledges, where they often nest and perch
  • Interesting Fact: Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on Earth, reaching speeds of up to 240 mph during a dive

Peregrine falcons are remarkable birds of prey found in Rocky Mountain National Park, inhabiting a range of elevations from montane to alpine zones. These skilled hunters are known for their incredible speed and agility, which they use to catch other birds in mid-flight. They have a distinctive appearance, with a slate-gray back, a white underside with black barring, and a black “helmet” on the head.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of peregrine falcons is their hunting technique, called a “stoop.” The falcon will soar high above its prey, then dive at incredible speeds to strike its target with its powerful talons. This impressive maneuver allows them to catch a wide variety of birds, including pigeons, ducks, and even other birds of prey.

When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, look for peregrine falcons perched on high ledges or cliff faces, where they often nest and hunt. Their astonishing aerial acrobatics and remarkable speed make them a thrilling sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. The presence of peregrine falcons contributes to the park’s diverse ecosystem and offers visitors an opportunity to witness these incredible birds in their natural habitat.

Pine Marten

  • Scientific Name: Martes americana
  • Common Elevation: 6,000-12,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in mature coniferous forests, often near fallen logs or tree cavities
  • Interesting Fact: Pine martens are skilled climbers, using their sharp claws to scale trees and hunt for prey

Pine martens are elusive and agile mustelids found in Rocky Mountain National Park, inhabiting elevations ranging from the montane to subalpine zones. They prefer mature coniferous forests, where they use their impressive climbing abilities to navigate the trees with ease. Pine martens have a slender, elongated body with a bushy tail, and their fur is typically a rich, dark brown with a distinctive yellow or orange throat patch.

These carnivorous mammals have a varied diet, feeding on small mammals such as squirrels and voles, as well as birds, insects, and occasionally fruit. Pine martens are solitary animals, except during mating season, and they can be territorial, marking their home range with scent glands.

When exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, keep an eye out for pine martens near fallen logs or tree cavities, as these areas are often used for denning and hunting. Although sightings of these elusive creatures can be rare, spotting a pine marten in the wild is a memorable experience. Remember to observe them from a safe distance and respect their natural habitat, ensuring their continued survival in the park.

Abert's Squirrel Abert’s Squirrel

  • Scientific Name:Sciurus aberti
  • Common Elevation: 5,500-10,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in ponderosa pine forests, where they often feed on pine seeds and cones
  • Interesting Fact: Abert’s squirrels have a unique symbiotic relationship with ponderosa pines, which provide food and shelter

Abert’s squirrels are medium-sized tree squirrels that inhabit Rocky Mountain National Park, primarily in the montane zone. They are closely associated with ponderosa pine forests, as these trees provide the majority of their food and shelter. Abert’s squirrels are characterized by their distinctive ear tufts, which are most prominent during the winter months, and their grayish-brown fur with a white underbelly.

These squirrels feed primarily on the seeds and cones of ponderosa pines, as well as the inner bark, buds, and needles of the trees. They also consume mushrooms, insects, and other plant materials. The strong bond between Abert’s squirrels and ponderosa pines is a unique example of a symbiotic relationship, as the squirrels help disperse the trees’ seeds while benefiting from their resources.

When exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, keep an eye out for these charming creatures scurrying among the branches of ponderosa pines or foraging on the forest floor. Observing Abert’s squirrels in their natural habitat offers a glimpse into the complex ecological relationships that exist within the park. Be sure to respect their habitat by practicing Leave No Trace principles and allowing them to continue their essential role in the park’s ecosystem.

Red Fox in Rocky Mountain National Park Red Fox

  • Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes
  • Common Elevation: Found throughout various elevations
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in meadows and forest edges, especially around dawn and dusk
  • Interesting Fact: Red foxes have excellent hearing and can detect the sounds of small mammals underground

The red fox is a versatile and adaptable species that can be found in Rocky Mountain National Park across a range of elevations. They are characterized by their reddish-orange fur, bushy tails with a white tip, and black markings on their legs and ears. Red foxes are known for their cunning and intelligence, making them successful predators in their environment.

These opportunistic feeders have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, insects, and even fruits and vegetables. They are most active during the early morning and late evening hours, which is when they typically hunt for food. Red foxes are solitary animals, but they may form family groups during the breeding season.

While exploring the park, you might catch a glimpse of a red fox darting through a meadow or along the edge of a forest. Remember to observe from a distance and respect their natural behavior. Encountering a red fox in its natural habitat is a special experience that can remind visitors of the beauty and diversity of wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Mountain Goat in Rocky Mountain National Park Mountain Goat

  • Scientific Name: Oreamnos americanus
  • Common Elevation: 10,000-14,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Watch for them on steep, rocky slopes in the alpine tundra zone
  • Interesting Fact: Mountain goats are not true goats but are more closely related to antelopes

Mountain goats are one of the most iconic and easily recognizable inhabitants of Rocky Mountain National Park’s alpine tundra zone. With their thick, shaggy white fur and impressive agility, they are perfectly adapted to the harsh conditions and steep terrain found at high elevations. Adult mountain goats can weigh between 100 and 300 pounds, with males sporting distinct, curved horns.

These incredible climbers have specially adapted hooves with a rubber-like traction pad that allows them to navigate the steep, rocky cliffs with ease. Mountain goats primarily graze on grasses, sedges, and other alpine vegetation, and they require a high intake of minerals, which they obtain by visiting mineral licks.

If you’re fortunate enough to spot a mountain goat during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, take a moment to appreciate their remarkable ability to thrive in such a challenging environment. Keep a safe distance and avoid disturbing them, as this helps protect both the animals and the fragile alpine area they call home.

Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park Bighorn Sheep

  • Scientific Name: Ovis canadensis
  • Common Elevation: 9,000-14,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them on rocky cliffs and ledges in the alpine and subalpine zones
  • Interesting Fact: 

    Male bighorn sheep engage in head-butting contests to establish dominance during mating season

Bighorn sheep are a symbol of the rugged beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. They are most commonly found in the alpine and subalpine zones, although they may venture to lower elevations during the winter. Bighorn sheep are known for their impressive curved horns, which are a prominent feature on the males (rams) and smaller, less curved on the females (ewes).

These agile animals are well-adapted to the steep, rocky terrain they inhabit. They have specialized hooves that provide excellent grip and balance on precarious ledges. Bighorn sheep primarily graze on grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation, and their diet varies depending on the season and availability of food sources.

When observing bighorn sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure to give them plenty of space and avoid disturbing their natural behavior. By respecting their habitat and observing from a safe distance, you’ll help ensure the continued survival and prosperity of these wild animals.

American Dipper

  • Scientific Name: Cinclus mexicanus
  • Common Elevation: Found near water sources from low to high elevations
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them near fast-moving streams and rivers, often perched on rocks or branches
  • Interesting Fact: American Dippers are known to “dip” or bob their entire bodies up and down while perched

The American Dipper, also known as the Water Ouzel, is a unique bird species found in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are often observed near fast-moving streams and rivers from low to high elevations. Dippers are small, gray birds with a distinctive white eyelid, which is visible when they blink.

These birds are well-adapted for their aquatic lifestyle, possessing a thick layer of feathers for insulation and strong legs for walking on the riverbed. They feed on aquatic insects, larvae, and small fish by diving into the water and searching for food beneath the surface. American Dippers are also known for their remarkable underwater swimming ability, using their wings to propel themselves like a penguin.

When observing American Dippers in Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure to watch for their characteristic dipping behavior, where they bob their entire bodies up and down while perched on rocks or branches. This unique display is thought to help them blend in with the moving water, providing camouflage from potential predators. By respecting their habitat and keeping a safe distance, you can enjoy the fascinating behaviors of these remarkable birds and contribute to the preservation of their habitat.

Wild Turkey in Rocky Mountain National Park Wild Turkey

  • Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo
  • Common Elevation: Found in lower montane elevations, often in wooded areas
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in open forested areas and meadows where they forage for food
  • Interesting Fact: Wild Turkeys can fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour for short distances

Wild Turkeys are large, ground-dwelling birds that can be found in the lower montane elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. They prefer wooded areas and are often seen in open forested spaces and meadows, where they forage for food such as seeds, insects, and small vertebrates.

Adult males, called “toms” or “gobblers,” are easily identified by their large size, fan-shaped tail, and colorful wattles. Female turkeys, called “hens,” are smaller and less colorful. Although they are often perceived as ungainly and slow-moving, wild turkeys are actually agile and can fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour for short distances.

In the park, Wild Turkeys are known to roost in trees at night for protection from predators. Their distinctive gobbling call can be heard from a mile away during the mating season, which usually occurs in the spring. When observing these fascinating birds in their natural habitat, be sure to keep a respectful distance and avoid feeding them, as human food can be harmful to their health and well-being. By doing so, you help preserve the unique wildlife of Rocky Mountain National Park for future generations to enjoy.

Snowshoe Hare in Rocky Mountain National Park Snowshoe Hare

  • Scientific Name: Lepus americanus
  • Common Elevation: 8,000-11,000 feet
  • Spotting Tip: Look for them in dense forests with thick understory vegetation
  • Interesting Fact: Snowshoe Hares change color, turning white in winter and brown in summer to blend in with their surroundings

The Snowshoe Hare is a medium-sized hare species found in the subalpine zones of Rocky Mountain National Park, typically between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. These hares prefer dense forests with thick understory vegetation, which provides both shelter and food.

One of the most notable features of the Snowshoe Hare is its ability to change color according to the season. In the summer months, their fur is a rusty brown color, which helps them blend in with the forest floor, while in the winter, they turn a snowy white to camouflage themselves in the snowy landscape. Their large, furry feet act as natural snowshoes, enabling them to move swiftly across the snow and escape predators.

Snowshoe Hares are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the early morning and evening hours. They feed on a variety of plant materials, including twigs, leaves, and bark. When observing Snowshoe Hares in their natural habitat, maintain a respectful distance and avoid making loud noises or sudden movements, as they are easily startled.





Tips for Spotting Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Visit during early mornings and evenings

Many animals are most active during these cooler hours, avoiding the heat of the day, so you’re more likely to spot them at these times. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open, as you may hear or see signs of wildlife even before you spot them directly.

Be patient and attentive

Many animals are most active during these cooler hours, avoiding the heat of the day, so you’re more likely to spot them at these times. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open, as you may hear or see signs of wildlife even before you spot them directly.

Explore different habitats

RMNP is home to a variety of ecosystems, each supporting different species of wildlife. Try visiting areas with diverse habitats, such as meadows, forests, and alpine tundra, to increase your chances of encountering a wider range of animals.





Bring binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens

These tools can help you spot animals from a safe and respectful distance. Observe the animals without disturbing them, and you’ll be more likely to witness their natural behaviors.

Learn about the animals you're interested in

Familiarize yourself with the preferred habitats, behaviors, and food sources of the species you want to see. This knowledge will help you identify the best locations and times of day to look for them.

Move quietly and minimize noise

When hiking, try to minimize your impact on the environment by walking softly and avoiding loud conversations. This will help you avoid scaring away wildlife and increase your chances of observing animals in their natural state.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

How to Respect the Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Observe from a distance

Always maintain a safe and respectful distance from wildlife, using binoculars or a camera lens to get a closer look. Avoid approaching, surrounding, or cornering wild animals, as this can cause them stress and potentially trigger an aggressive response.





Do not feed wildlife

Feeding wild animals can harm their health, alter their natural behavior, and create dependence on human food sources. Keep your food and trash securely stored and dispose of waste properly to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite or picnic area.

Stay on designated trails

Hiking on designated trails not only helps preserve the delicate vegetation but also minimizes the potential for unexpected encounters with wildlife. Remember that you are a visitor in their home, and your presence should have minimal impact on their natural habitat.

Cleaning up dog poop on trails

Keep pets under control

If pets are permitted in certain areas of the park, always keep them leashed and under control. Unleashed pets can disturb or provoke wildlife, leading to potentially dangerous situations for both the animals and your pet.

Respect nesting and breeding areas

During breeding and nesting seasons, some species may be particularly sensitive to human disturbance. Pay attention to posted signs indicating areas where wildlife is nesting or breeding and avoid these locations to minimize stress on the animals.





Do not disturb wildlife

Refrain from making loud noises or engaging in activities that could startle or disturb wild animals. This includes throwing objects at them or attempting to lure them closer. Respect their need for space and quiet, allowing them to go about their daily routines undisturbed.

Educate others

Share your knowledge of responsible wildlife viewing practices with friends, family, and fellow park visitors. By fostering a culture of respect and awareness, you can help ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park’s wildlife.

Elk Herd in Rocky Mountain National Park

Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park: The Final Word

As you venture into the breathtaking landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park, you now have the tools and knowledge to make the most of your wildlife encounters. By following our expert tips and advice, you’ll not only increase your chances of spotting a variety of animals but also ensure that your experiences are safe and respectful for both you and the creatures that call RMNP home. Remember, the magic of observing wildlife lies in witnessing their natural behaviors in the stunning settings that surround them. So, get out there, tread lightly, and discover the wonders of the animal kingdom that await you in the magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park.

Additional Resources





Frequently Asked Questions

A: Early mornings and evenings are typically the best times to spot wildlife in the park, as many animals are more active during these cooler hours. Additionally, different species may be more visible during specific seasons, such as elk during the fall rut or bighorn sheep in the winter months.

A: No, feeding wildlife in RMNP is strictly prohibited. Feeding wild animals can lead to health issues, alter their natural behavior, and create dependence on human food sources. Always store your food and trash securely to avoid attracting wildlife.

A: The park provides habitat for over 60 mammal species, around 280 bird species, and numerous amphibians, reptiles, and fish. Additionally, countless insects and other invertebrates can also be found within the park. The overall number of individual animals would be in the thousands, if not millions, when considering all these species and the varying populations of each.

A: Yes, mountain lions (Puma concolor) can be found in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are elusive and well-adapted predators, and their presence in the park is a testament to the healthy ecosystem. Mountain lions inhabit a variety of habitats within the park, including montane and subalpine forests. However, they are generally shy and avoid human contact, so sightings are relatively rare. It’s important for visitors to the park to be aware of their presence and follow safety guidelines to reduce the risk of encounters with these predators.

 
 

A: Yes, there are bears in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The park is home to black bears (Ursus americanus), which are the only bear species currently found in the area. Black bears primarily inhabit the montane zone but can sometimes be found at higher elevations as well. They are generally shy and avoid human contact. However, it’s crucial for park visitors to exercise caution, maintain a safe distance if they encounter a bear, and practice proper food storage to prevent attracting these animals.

 

A: It’s crucial to maintain a safe and respectful distance from wildlife. For larger animals like elk, moose, and bears, a distance of at least 75 feet (23 meters) is recommended. For smaller animals, maintain a distance of at least 25 feet (8 meters) to minimize stress and avoid disturbing them.

 

A: While most animals in RMNP are not inherently dangerous, encounters with species like bears and mountain lions can pose a risk if they feel threatened. Always maintain a safe distance, make noise while hiking to avoid surprising them, and know what to do in case of an encounter.

A: Pets are allowed in some areas of the park but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet (1.8 meters) at all times. Pets are not permitted on most park trails, in the backcountry, or in meadows to minimize disturbance to wildlife and protect the delicate ecosystem.

A: The elk rut, or mating season, typically occurs from mid-September to mid-October in RMNP. During this time, male elk, or bulls, engage in bugling and sparring to establish dominance and attract mates. It’s essential to respect these powerful animals and give them plenty of space.

A: To improve your chances of seeing wildlife, plan your visit during their most active times (early morning and evening), hike quietly and patiently, and use binoculars or a camera lens to observe animals from a distance. Always remain on designated trails to minimize disturbance to wildlife and their habitat.









Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.





Enjoy this Article? Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Join 4,000+ other subscribers and receive mountain news updates, route guides, gear reviews, and other articles in our twice-monthly email newsletter.





Leave a Reply





Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

Learn more about how we protect public lands and prevent SAR calls through education & advocacy.

Join 5K Subscribers!

Get the latest mountain news, hear about training opportunities and gear discounts, receive new resources, and learn to advocate for public lands as a Next Summit Newsletter subscriber.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Subscribe and get my free planner with all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Become a subscriber to download my free 14er planner. It lists all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order. Get it now & start planning!