Winter Wildlife Watching

12/23/2019 | by Lyles Armour | Area Wildlife Estes Park Rocky Mountain National Park

The wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park is abundant and it’s one of the main reasons why over 3 million people visit the park each year. But just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to see. While the bears may be in hibernation for the season, there is plenty of other winter wildlife watching available in Rocky Mountain National Park. Get your camera and your binoculars ready for the chance to see the park’s most admired fauna.

What you’ll see

Though our yellow-bellied marmots and black bears hibernate and the hummingbirds migrate, there is the wildlife that stays on the move in the winter. Keep a lookout for the following animals that are still active within the park:

Pikas – on the smaller side of life, the pikas, members of the rabbit family, do not hibernate in winter. But the only way you will see these cute little creatures is if you venture up past tree line (above 11,000 feet in elevation). Throughout the summer they spend their time gathering tundra food for the winter survival. They keep their food stored under rocks so that they have enough to survive on for winter.

Birds – while Rocky Mountain National Park is home to hundreds of migratory birds, there are several which can be seen year-round, especially in the winter, including wild turkeys, hawks, falcons, woodpeckers, and pygmy owls

Elk – while elk are always present in the park, no matter what time of year, they migrate to a lower elevation as the months get colder. In the summer, visitors will most likely find elk in higher elevation where they can chow down on the blooming tundra. In the winter, elk will migrate down to warmer temperatures, mostly in large meadows, for the season. This means for visitors who aren’t yet ready to brave the arctic temps in the high country will still be able to see elk grazing with picturesque snow-capped mountain peaks in the background.

Moose – not too common to see in the winter, but you might be lucky enough to catch sight of a bull moose or a cow.

How to see

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is a great way to escape the crowds and enjoy its majesty all covered in snow. Here are a few ways you can explore the park and check out our wildlife.

  • Hike/snowshoe: Hit the trails to see the animals in their natural habitat as you enjoy the panoramic vistas with snow-capped mountains, frozen waterfalls, and beautiful trees.
  • Take a tour: Join a ranger-led program through the park or take a tour with a smaller, local outfit to learn more about the park and let someone else do the navigating.
  • Scenic drive: Take a drive through the park along Bear Lake Road or Fall River Road to catch sight of our wildlife. Just be sure to pull over off the road completely if you see a herd of elk or other animals to not block the road for other park visitors.

Some of the best viewing spots for winter wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park include Moraine Park, Bear Lake Road, and the Fall River entrance to the park.

Winter wildlife watching tips

  • Know where to go: Moraine Park, Bear Lake Road, Devil’s Gulch, and in town around Lake Estes are hot spots for wildlife watching.
  • Know when to go: Animals are more active at dawn or dusk.
  • Keep a distance: Park rules state that you need to keep at least 75 ft. of the distance between you and our wildlife, especially with mothers and its young, and up to 120 ft. for bigger animals like bears and moose.
  • Do not feed: Feeding the animals is illegal in national parks and beyond the legal consequences, feeding them makes them dependent on humans and lose their sense of fear of humans and can become more aggressive or need to be put down.

Stay at Rocky Mountain Resorts

image of rocky mountain resorts unit two

Many guests staying at our cabins and vacation rentals at Rocky Mountain Resorts have had the fortune of just looking out their window to see some of our wildlife right in their front yard! Our vacation rentals rest just minutes from the park’s entrance and offer beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery, all on a budget you can afford. Find the perfect Estes Park cabin to return to and review your photos after a day of wildlife watching in the park.

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