Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife


Estes Park is a small town nestled in the northern corner of Colorado. A mountain getaway cradled by the Rocky Mountain National Park and with a magnificent outlook to 14,000-feet peaks and national forestscape.

This protected landscape offers habitat to hundreds of animal species. Regardless of whether you are hiking, horseback riding or driving through the park, be prepared to encounter some wild residents. 

It is more common to see big game in Estes Valley and the Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall and winter season. However, some sightings are still possible in the summer. Animals such as beavers, coyotes, chipmunks, raccoons and badgers are common all year round. There are also rare sightings of the moose, bear, fox, mountain lion and bobcat.

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Wildlife watching

Elk Bull

Wildlife encounters are the most exhilarating jaw-dropping experiences and an ideal educational day out for children. The Estes Valley is a habitat for the regal elk and the charismatic mule deer. There are about 3000 elk in Estes Park and interaction between these animals and humans happens on a daily basis. 

The best and magical spotting of elk happens during the elk rut from mid-September to mid-October. This is their mating season. These sightings are fascinating but it is important to take precautions especially since the elks can be more aggressive during these times. With the cows defending their young in the spring and the bulls protecting their harems during the fall. 

The mule is also a thriving species in and around Estes Park. Mules often ‘pose’ for photos. Their wide, dewy eyes actually look straight at your lens making for some fabulous photo opportunities. 

Video Credit: Ben Fraternale

One mysterious animal that can be spotted in Estes Park is the moose.

Often sighted past Trail Ridge Road’s Alpine Visitor Center on the western side of the park. If you are lucky you’ll be able to sight the moose in the wild basin area. However, these mammals are hard to spot so you need to stay attentive and keep your eyes open if you want an opportunity to spot these magnificent creatures..

Other larger mammals which can be spotted include: bighorn sheep, black bears and cats.

Adult Mountain Lion

The sheep are common during summer around Sheep Lakes in the Rocky Mountain National Park and bears can be spotted in the park or close to town. Mountain lions are harder to spot, as are as bobcats and Canadian lynx.

The other smaller animals are very easy to spot especially around picnic areas and open meadows. They scurry through the park and often termed as the “welcoming committee”. The best place to spot the beaver is along the waterways around town and the park. Otters can be spotted by the Colorado River on the west side of the park. 

For an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience in the Rocky Mountain National Park we recommend a guided wildlife tour or a 4×4 tour. Some local guide companies include:

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife

Bird Watching

the golden eagle_estes park vacations
A Golden Eagle

Field glasses at the ready! Estes Park, Estes Valley and the Rocky Mountain National Park are paradise locations for bird watchers.

Home to over 315 different species, it’s not unusual to glimpse golden eagles, bald eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons, ospreys, great horned owls, raptors, plus tiny hummingbirds, bluebirds, nutcrackers, magpies and jays.

As well as the delight of seeing these fine winged creatures, the region is also home to hundreds of butterfly species. 

Some of the best places to head for bird watching include: 

Lumpy Ridge: Hike along the trail that borders MacGregor Ranch meadow to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lumpy Ridge and you might just be able to glimpse prairie falcons and red-tailed hawks, or the magnificent kestrels and peregrine falcons which nest in the cliffs.

Lake Estes: This is the place to see Canadian geese, and you might spot a hunting osprey or bald eagle. Lake Estes is also home to Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary, who organise bird-watching guided tours of the park. 

Upper Beaver Meadows: Take the trail and keep a watch out for nuthatches, woodpeckers, and warblers. March is the time to spot the first season mountain bluebird.

Cub Lake Trail: For broad-tailed hummingbirds, and head to Cub Lake to seek out a dusky grouse, and the great American dipper. 

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife

Tips on keeping you and the animals safe

Animals can be seen around Estes Park town

Wild animals are still wild even if you see them in town and must be respected at all times, as they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. It is important to have knowledge about the wildlife, behaviors and habitats so that you know where to go, when to be alert and when to adjust your behavior. Some safety tips include:

• Never approach or attempt to touch wildlife

• Be more alert during sensitive times especially spring calving and fall mating seasons for the elk and moose since they can be aggressive and defensive

• For closer observation of wildlife, use binoculars and a zoom lense

• Don’t imitate an elk bugle or call during the fall mating season since it may irritate or threaten the bull which endangers you.

• Don’t follow or chase animals neither should your children or pets.

• Animals moving away shows that they need more space

• Observe state and national park laws

• Don’t feed wildlife no matter how small or accustomed they are. Human food is unhealthy for animals.

• Never stop or block traffic especially when driving. Don’t stop abruptly

• Respect private property

• Keep your pets in the vehicle or secured on a leash at a long distance to avoid them provoking the wild animals,

• Follow the proper procedures and regulations when securing food and food trash.

Estes Park will make you fall in love with animals even if you are not an animal person. However, don’t take unnecessary risks that may pose a danger to you or the animals. 

More Things To See And Do

Estes Park Bucket List

The Best Things To See And Do In The Area
Estes Park Wildlife
Estes Park Wildlife

Get ready to meet some wild residents up close. 

Top Attractions
Top Attractions

You’ll be spoilt for choice with so many attractions!

Estes Park Hiking
Estes Park Hiking

Oh yes. 300 miles of hiking and walking trails await.

Horseback Riding
Horseback Riding

Saddle Up – The perfect way to enjoy the scenic landscape.

Water Activities
Water Activities

Excellent water activities for the whole family.

Estes Park Kids
Estes Park Kids

Our favorite kid-friendly activities in Estes Park.

If you have any questions feel free to get in touch

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