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Watching Wildlife

Black bears— they can also be brown, cinnamon or blond—are the only bears known to exist in Colorado.

Black bears— they can also be brown, cinnamon or blond—are the only bears known to exist in Colorado.

It’s summer and the call of the open road beckons. Not only is the stunning scenery a reason to explore Colorado, but even more is the amazing wildlife that inhabits it.

Colorado has eight National Wildlife Refuges, 350 State Wildlife Areas, 12 National Parks and Monuments and 41 State Parks. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages about 350 State Wildlife Area lands. These are state- or privately-owned lands that are paid for by sportsmen but managed under state law by CPW for the benefit of wildlife-and wildlife watchers.

Did you know that Colorado’s landscape is populated by more than 900 species of wildlife? Although wildlife is literally everywhere and many of the same species can be found in various locations, it’s good to know where some of the hotspots are, especially if the goal is wildlife viewing.

Viewing wildlife is unpredictable. There’s no guarantee that you will see what you were looking for, but you will definitely be surprised by something unexpected. The best time to see animals is early morning and late afternoon. Look for brown-and-white binocular signs on roadsides that mark wildlife viewing areas, and remember these tips from CPW: Keep a safe distance, don’t feed them and leave your pets at home.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Bison:

The iconic symbol of the West, wild bison are back in Colorado. A herd of genetically pure bison from the National Bison Range in Montana now make this their home.  It’s also a sanctuary for more than 330 species of animals, including black-footed ferrets, deer, coyotes, bald eagles and burrowing owls. Just outside of Denver in Commerce City, it may be one of the finest conservation success stories in history and a place where wildlife thrives.

Rocky Mountain National Park: Bighorn sheep:

The magnificent Bighorn is Colorado’s state mammal, and the symbol of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Look for them on high mountain slopes and rocky cliffs and outcroppings. In summer, try spotting the lambs frolicking after their mothers. During the fall rut, watching the head-butting rams is a jaw-dropping event. The curling horns can reach 50 inches in length and weigh 30 pounds.

Mt. Evans Scenic Byway: Mountain goats:

This is a primary viewing area for these agile animals. Although not native to Colorado, a herd originally transplanted from Wyoming in the 1960s have thrived and multiplied. Watch their balancing acts in rocky terrain, and look for the kids (babies) in summer. Bighorn sheep and elk are also plentiful in the area. The 49-mile Byway from Idaho Springs is America’s highest paved road at 14,130 feet. The view will take your breath away.

Estes Park: Elk:

Want to see elk? This is the place. It’s Colorado’s elk capital. The massive, awesome wapiti reach seven feet at the shoulder, so keep your distance. During the September-October elk rut mating season, they meander everywhere-streets, sidewalks, lawns, roadsides-and especially like to hang out on the golf courses. The haunting sounds of their bugling echoes from dusk to dawn. This year’s Elk Fest celebrates all things elk September 30-October 1.

Walden and North Park: MOOSE:

Hard to believe, but until the 1970s, there was hardly a moose to be seen in Colorado. Save for an occasional stray from Wyoming, they were not part of our landscape. Following large moose transplants from Wyoming and Utah by Colorado wildlife managers, the population has grown to over 1,000. In 1995, the state legislature designated Walden as the “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado.”

Colorado Birding Trail:

From CPW: “The Colorado Birding Trail is a major nature tourism initiative to promote non-consumptive outdoor recreation, conservation of resources by private landowners, and a diversified income for rural economies. The Birding Trail will link outdoor recreation sites, both public and private, into a network of sites where visitors can observe birds and other wildlife.” Currently there are 40 trails with over 800 sites to view watchable wildlife.

Chatfield State Park: BIRDS: 

Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Brighton, is home to more than 300 species of birds, including eagles and owls, at different times. Visitors can watch tiny birds being banded at the banding station. Banding provides information about bird populations that pass through the state.

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge:

In the heart of the arid San Louis Valley, the lush wetlands provide habitat for songbirds, waterfowl, and myriad wildlife. In March and September, 20,000 Sandhill Cranes stop here during their migration.

Closer to home, don’t overlook our very own Cheyenne Mountain State Park for mule deer, elk, wild turkeys and foxes, as well as elusive black bear and mountain lions. The resident Bighorn sheep are big attractions in Garden of the Gods.