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Tips for Photographing Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park

10/22/2019 | by Lyles Armour | Estes Park

Wildlife viewing in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the more popular activities to enjoy year-round. Everything from elk and moose to little picas and soaring birds is available for viewing. And one of the best ways to capture and savor the moment is with your camera. With patience and a little luck, capturing Rocky Mountain National Park’s local fauna can make for beautiful photos. So, here are a few tips for photographing wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Viewing tips

When you spot an animal be sure to keep a safe distance and approach slowly. Do not get too close, as this will startle the animal and put yourself in danger. Photographing wildlife is about trying to understand their behavior and anticipating where they will move so you can be in a position to where the animal walks towards you. Also making sure you are staying quiet and still so as not to disturb the wildlife in their natural habitat.

If driving, pull safely off the road and use your car as an enclosure for photographing and view from a safe distance.

It is best practice to keep at least 75 feet or two bus-lengths away and at least 120 feet or three bus-lengths away from more dangerous animals like moose, bears, and mountain lions.

When to photograph

As with most photography, it is ideal to capture wildlife at dawn and dusk. Not only is this when the light is best during the day but it also when animals are most active.

Equipment

Useful equipment for photographing wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park includes, of course, your camera but also binoculars and a spotting scope to spot the animals. Use a telephoto lens of 300mm or greater in order to photograph from a safe distance and not disturb the wildlife.

What and where to photograph

Knowing basic information about the animal’s habitat and where to find them, greatly increases your chance of spotting them. Here are a few places within the park to check out.

  • Elk can be seen almost anytime, but one of the best times is during the fall season a.k.a. the rutting season. Elk are mostly found in low-lying meadows, grazing, and sleeping. Elk spend most of their time at or above treeline during the summer, so at a higher elevation. Feeding times are at dawn and dusk.
  • Moose are the other “megafauna” that can be found in the park. They frequent willow trees along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley on the park’s west side.
  • Bighorn sheep move to lower elevations in late spring and early summer, coming from the Mummy Range to Sheep Lakes. Here, sightings are common from mid-May through August.
  • A variety of birds can be seen in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visit here for our guide on birdwatching in the park.
  • Mule deer are a popular animal to spot in the park. They are found in almost at lower elevations in open areas.
  • Smaller animals greet visitors as well such as picas, marmots, and the snowshoe hare. Marmots and picas like rocky terrain. Marmots frequent the alpine tundra along Trail Ridge Road and picas are commonly found sitting atop a large rock pile.

No matter what you plan to photograph, the key is to make as little of your presence known as possible. This is not only safe for you but for the animals as well and in the end, will provide you with the best photograph!

Stay at Rocky Mountain Resorts

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To enjoy the best of the park, stay nearby at Rocky Mountain Resorts. Our comfortable and affordable vacation rentals are ideally located minutes from downtown Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, making us an ideal choice for your Rocky Mountain vacation.

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