Colorado’s Wild Wonders: Best Spots for Wildlife Enthusiasts

The Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado, known for its breathtaking landscapes, is a treasure trove of wildlife, offering a unique blend of species in various ecosystems. From majestic elk to elusive lynxes, the question of what kind of wildlife is in Colorado can be answered with a long and diverse list. This rich biodiversity makes Colorado an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

The Rocky Mountain National Park: A Wildlife Haven

When considering the top locations for observing wildlife in Colorado, it is essential to note the Rocky Mountain National Park.The park serves as a refuge for a diverse range of wildlife, such as elk, bighorn sheep, and black bears.Here is a brief overview of the fauna found in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park:

Wildlife SpeciesNotable Features
ElkParticularly visible during fall
Bighorn SheepOften spotted in the Sheep Lakes area
Black BearsSightings are rare but rewarding

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk (Cervus canadensis) are one of the most iconic and frequently spotted animals in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are especially visible during the fall season when they engage in mating rituals known as the “rut.” During this time, the bugling calls of male elk echo throughout the park, making it an unforgettable experience for wildlife enthusiasts.

Bighorn Sheep in Sheep Lakes Area

The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) are often observed in the Sheep Lakes area of the park. These magnificent creatures are known for their impressive, curved horns that can weigh up to 30 pounds. Observing bighorn sheep in their natural habitat is a unique opportunity for visitors to the park.

Black Bears: Rare but Rewarding Sightings

While black bear (Ursus americanus) sightings in Rocky Mountain National Park are relatively rare, they can be incredibly rewarding for those lucky enough to spot them. These bears are known for their black fur, and they can often be found foraging for food in the park’s forests and meadows. It’s essential to exercise caution and maintain a safe distance when encountering black bears.

Wildlife Viewing Tips

female using camera

If you’re planning a wildlife viewing trip in Colorado, here are some essential tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

Best Time to Visit

Wildlife is most active during the early morning and late evening hours, so plan your visits accordingly. Sunrise and sunset are ideal times for spotting animals.

Safety Tips

Safety is paramount when observing wildlife. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Maintain a safe distance from animals: Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to get a closer look without disturbing the wildlife;
  • Do not feed the animals: Feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural behaviors and lead to potentially dangerous encounters;
  • Stay on designated trails: Following established trails and paths helps minimize your impact on the environment and wildlife habitats;
  • Be patient and quiet: Avoid loud noises and sudden movements that can startle animals and cause them to flee.

The San Juan National Forest: Diversity at Its Best

The San Juan National Forest

Another gem among the best places to see wildlife in Colorado is the San Juan National Forest. This area is renowned for its diverse wildlife, including the elusive Canadian lynx and the majestic bald eagle.

Species to Look Out For

When exploring the San Juan National Forest for wildlife, keep an eye out for the following remarkable species:

Canadian LynxKnown for their secretive nature
Bald EaglesBest viewed near water bodies

Canadian Lynx

The Canadian lynx is a symbol of wilderness and stealth. Recognizable by its tufted ears and thick fur, this solitary cat is known for its elusive and secretive nature. Observing a Canadian lynx in the wild is a rare and exciting experience. To increase your chances of spotting one, consider the following tips:

  • Time of Day: Lynxes are most active during dawn and dusk, so plan your wildlife viewing outings accordingly;
  • Silent Observation: Stay quiet and avoid sudden movements to avoid scaring off these shy creatures;
  • Binoculars and Telephoto Lenses: Use optical aids like binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a closer look without disturbing the lynx.

Bald Eagles

Bald eagles are another iconic species that call the San Juan National Forest home. These impressive birds of prey are often found near water bodies like lakes and rivers, where they hunt for fish and other aquatic prey. Here are some guidelines for spotting bald eagles:

  • Look Near Water: To increase your chances of seeing a bald eagle, focus your wildlife viewing efforts near lakes, rivers, and reservoirs;
  • Binoculars and Telescopes: Equip yourself with binoculars or telescopes to admire these birds’ intricate plumage and behaviors from a respectful distance.

Visitor Guidelines

To ensure the protection of the wildlife and their natural habitats within the San Juan National Forest, it’s essential to adhere to specific visitor guidelines:

  • Stay on Designated Trails: Staying on marked trails is crucial to avoid disturbing wildlife and disrupting their habitats. Straying off-trail can harm sensitive ecosystems and nesting areas;
  • Use Binoculars: Opt for binoculars or spotting scopes to observe animals from a distance. This allows for a closer look without causing undue stress to the animals.

The State Wildlife Areas: Unexplored Treasures

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

While the San Juan National Forest is undoubtedly a top wildlife destination in Colorado, the state also boasts numerous State Wildlife Areas that often go overlooked. These areas hold significant potential for wildlife viewing, offering sightings of waterfowl, coyotes, and even prairie dogs. Exploring these lesser-known spots can provide a unique and enriching wildlife experience.

Notable Areas

Here are a couple of notable State Wildlife Areas in Colorado that are worth exploring for wildlife sightings:

  • Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the San Luis Valley, this refuge provides habitat for a variety of waterfowl and migratory birds. It’s an excellent destination for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers;
  • Bosque del Oso Wildlife Area: Situated in the foothills of southern Colorado, this area offers diverse wildlife viewing opportunities, including deer, elk, and a range of bird species.

Viewing Essentials

When visiting these State Wildlife Areas, keep in mind the following essentials:

  • Seasonal Variations: Different wildlife species are visible in different seasons. Research the best time of year to observe your target species and plan your visit accordingly;
  • Respect the Habitat: Always follow posted rules and regulations. These areas are designated to protect both wildlife and their environments, so be sure to be a responsible visitor.

Wildlife Watching Etiquette

To ensure a fulfilling wildlife viewing experience in the best places to see wildlife in Colorado, it’s essential to follow proper wildlife watching etiquette. By doing so, you can help minimize your impact on the environment and increase your chances of observing wildlife in their natural behaviors.

Here are some key etiquette guidelines to observe:

  • Keep Noise to a Minimum: Loud noises can startle and disturb animals, causing them to flee. Speak softly and use non-verbal communication when necessary;
  • No Feeding: Feeding wildlife is not only against the law in many places but can also disrupt their natural foraging habits and make them dependent on human food, which can harm their health;
  • Leave No Trace: Practice “Leave No Trace” principles by cleaning up after yourself, taking all trash with you, and avoiding any damage to the natural environment.


Colorado, with its myriad habitats and rich biodiversity, stands as a top destination for answering the question of what wildlife is in Colorado. Whether you’re a seasoned wildlife photographer or a casual nature observer, the best places to see wildlife in Colorado offer experiences that are both enriching and exhilarating.


Q1: What is the best time of year to see wildlife in Colorado?

A: Spring and fall are generally the best times, with animal migrations and mating behaviors.

Q2: Are there guided tours available in these wildlife areas?

A: Yes, many areas offer guided tours for a more informed experience.

Q3: Is it safe to explore these areas alone?

A: While generally safe, it’s advised to have company, especially in remote areas.

Q4: What should I do if I encounter a large animal like a bear?

A: Keep a safe distance, do not feed, and slowly back away without turning your back.

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