Colorado is not only filled with spectacular scenery but abundant wildlife, including moose, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and even black bears. While getting out into its wilderness areas on foot is a great way to catch a glimpse of many of these creatures, there is quite a bit that can be seen right from behind the wheel, without even unbuckling your seat belt. Of course, with that fresh mountain air, getting outdoors with a pair of binoculars is even better. Either way, these are the Rocky Mountain State’s top spots for wildlife watching.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Colorado State Forest Park, Walden
State Forest State Park in Walden offers an idyllic destination for escaping the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park and is one of the best spots to view moose in the state. The area in and around the park is considered the moose capital of the state and it also boasts some of the most spectacular scenery around, including glistening alpine lakes and dramatic mountain peaks. You’ll find all sorts of hikes for exploring, including the easy trek to Lake Agnes. Less than a mile each way, it boasts breathtaking turquoise waters. Along the way, watch for not only the over 600 moose that live here throughout the year but elk, bald eagles, black bears, mule deer, beaver, fox and marmots. Stop at the Moose Visitor Center for more information, maps, and to view interpretive displays.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its lush meadows that are surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, gem-like lakes and abundant wildlife. It’s home to nearly 300 different types of birds and dozens of mammals, including elk. Elk can be spotted sparring and bugling, especially during their fall rutting season in the areas near Estes Park on the east side of the park. Along the 300 miles of trails in the park, you’ll have the opportunity to catch glimpses of not only elk but bighorn sheep and moose. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see the many pikas and marmots when visiting the alpine tundra, and near the lakes and rivers, you’ll see swift white-tailed ptarmigans and the occasional bald eagle too.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Take a scenic drive from Echo Lake near Idaho Springs on the 28-mile Mount Evans Scenic Byway and you’re practically guaranteed to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats, along with little creatures like pikas and marmots that like those high-elevation areas. The route climbs over 7,000 feet in elevation to the top of Mount Evans, one of the state’s 58 fourteeners. It’s especially breathtaking in the fall when the leaves are transformed from a vibrant green to brilliant gold.
San Juan Skyway
Traveling through the magnificent San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado is one of the most unforgettable experiences, with some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery, multiple historic towns and sites, and lots of wildlife. It traverses through Durango, Silverton, Telluride and Ouray on a 236-mile route that was named by Travel + Leisure as one of the best drives in the nation thanks to its million-dollar views. In this unspoiled wilderness region you’re also likely to spot animals like bald eagles, fox, elk, red-tailed hawks and perhaps even the occasional black bear all while taking in the splendor of the towering mountains.
Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge
If you’re an avid bird watcher, you won’t want to miss visiting Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge. Located in the heart of the San Luis Valley, it’s considered a birders’ paradise with the lush wetlands offering habitat throughout the year for all sorts of birds, deer and coyotes. The highlight, however, is the thousands of migrating sandhill cranes that use the refuge as temporary accommodation – be sure to bring your binoculars. It’s been estimated that anywhere from 23,000 to 27,000 of the beautiful birds migrate here biannually, with peak time in mid-March and mid-October.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is an easy reach from Denver, located only about 15 miles northwest of downtown. Travel the 11-mile Wildlife Drive to view bison, hawks, deer, waterfowl and more. There are over 10 miles of hiking trails if you want to get out on foot an explore as well. Either way, it doesn’t cost a thing and is a great way to enjoy nature close-up. The bison herd that roams here is almost always spotted and makes for some fantastic photographs. The refuge also hosts a visitor center if you want to get more information about the wildlife and the area.
The bighorn sheep in Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins were introduced here in 1946, where they prospered until the early 1990s. For a decade or so they were in danger of disappearing altogether but have recovered nicely since. There are two distinct herds, with one that can often be viewed in the Rustic area of the upper canyon and the other located near the Narrows just about Mishawaka for a total of around 200 animals. While you’re here you can enjoy hiking the picturesque trails, swimming, tubing or even whitewater rafting during the season.
South Platte River Trail
If you want to watch for wildlife in the winter, head to the Fort Morgan area in northeast Colorado. This is when more than 100 bald eagles can be seen perched in the cottonwood trees along the South Platte River Trail which follows Highway 34 between Fort Morgan and Kersey. The best time to view the roosting eagles is in the early morning hours or an hour or so before dusk. You’ll want a telephoto lens for capturing them on film, or at least a pair of binoculars as their eyesight is far better than humans and the birds won’t put up with people approaching too close.
By driving to Guanella Pass you’ll be able to soak up the awe-inspiring views of 14,060-foot Mount Bierstadt and watch all sorts of wildlife in the Rocky Mountain ecosystem. Look for beavers, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and a wide range of birds. Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway makes for an outstanding road trip, bike ride or hike along the 23-mile alpine trek through the Pike and Arapaho National Forests.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keenesburg
If you want guaranteed wildlife sightings, head to the Wild Animal Sanctuary. This is not your typical zoo, as the over 300 animals here are living in open habitats where they are free to roam and will never be forced to put on a show. The sanctuary specializes in rescuing and caring for large predators that have been ill-treated, for which their owners can no longer care, or which might otherwise be euthanized.