If you’re headed to Colorado with kids in tow, a visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park is in order. In additional to the jaw-dropping mountain scenery, the park is also home to abundant wildlife: more than 60 different species of mammals, from moose to elk to sheep.
In fact, a U.S. National Park Service survey in 2014 found that visitors named wildlife as their top reason for visiting the park, followed by its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.
Only about an hour from Boulder and 90 minutes to two hours from Denver, it’s easy to load the kids into the car (don’t forget your binoculars) and prepare to spot some of these impressive creatures as you wind through the park’s peaks and valleys.
Elk aren't rare to spot in the Rocky Mountain National Park. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Ann Schonlau
Chances are good you'll see elk, as the herd gets as large as 600 to 800, especially during the winter months. Keep a close eye on where meadows meet the forest, including Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Meadows on the park’s east side. You might also consider visiting during their mating season in the fall, and keep in mind that elk like to feed at dawn and dusk.
FInd big horn sheep throughout the park year-round. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Ann Schonlau
Kids will love catching sight of the park’s bighorn sheep, with their large horns – especially the male curved version, which they use to charge one another up to 40 miles per hour. During the spring and summer, look for these animals at Sheep Lake, though you can find them throughout the park year-round.
Keep clear of moose; enjoy them from afar. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Russell Smith
A moose can be a magnificent sight to behold, as you marvel at its tremendous size and power. Moose are plentiful in Colorado, and within the park, they tend to stay on the west side in thickets along the Colorado River. Keep a safe distance from moose, as they can be dangerous to humans.
Marmots like to stretch out on boulders. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Ann Schonlau
Marmots can be a fun animal to come across. They like to sun on large rocks and boulders, so you may happen upon one unexpectedly. They look similar to beavers, but you’ll know them by their smaller size, light color and distinctive bark. You’re most likely to find them on the alpine tundra along Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads.
The Rocky Mountain National Park is home to hundreds of types of birds. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Ann Schonlau
There are more than 280 recorded bird species in Rocky Mountain National Park, so keep an eye to the sky for golden eagles, prairie falcons, magpies, red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls. See if you can sleuth out the white-tailed ptarmigans, one of the most sought-after but hardest to spot species. Try heading to higher elevations to find them.
Coyotes tend to reside in meadows. — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park/Ann Schonlau
Other family-favorite creatures include mule deer (seen frequently in open areas at lower elevations), bats (often feeding over water), otters frolicking in the Colorado River, snowshoe hares, short-tailed and long-tailed weasels and coyotes, usually found in meadows.
One of the park’s most popular activities for kids is the Junior Rangers program. Kids receive a booklet full of activities to complete as they travel through the park. Download the age-appropriate booklet online and then take it to any park visitor center for a ranger to sign and award your kids their official badges.
Depending on the season, the park also holds a variety of family-friendly events each week. Call the park’s information office at 970-586-1206 for details and times.