Rocky Mountain National Park Feature

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Spotting Wildlife

If you see a group of cars pulled over at a seemingly random section of road, with passengers staring intently at something in the distance, it's a good bet that an animal is within sight. May through mid-October is the best time to see the bighorn sheep that congregate in the Horseshoe Park/Sheep Lakes area, just past the Fall River entrance. Elk can be seen year-round throughout the park and the surrounding area (downtown Estes Park can get serious "traffic jams" when elk decide to congregate on the streets). Kawuneeche Valley, on the park's western side, is the most likely location to glimpse a moose. In the early mornings and evenings, listen for the eerie howling of coyotes throughout the park.

Fall is an excellent time to spot many types of wildlife, when certain animals begin moving down from the higher elevations. This is also when you'll hear the male elk bugle mating calls to their female counterparts. The sound also serves to draw large crowds to popular "listening" spots—Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park, and Upper Beaver Meadows—in the early evening.

Spring and summer are the best times for bird-watching. Go early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. Lumpy Ridge is the nesting ground of raptors such as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and peregrine. You can see migratory songbirds from South America in their summer breeding grounds near the Endovalley Picnic Area. The alpine tundra is habitat for white-tailed ptarmigan. The Alluvial Fan, along the Roaring River, is an excellent place for viewing broad-tailed hummingbirds, hairy woodpeckers, robins, ouzels, and the occasional raptor.

Keep a camera with a good telephoto lens handy for those close-ups of animals. Approaching, chasing, or feeding any wildlife in the park is forbidden, and it also unduly stresses the animals and can create real problems for both humans and the animals themselves.

Updated: 2014-03-12

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