These three spots give you the best opportunity to catch a glimpse of Colorado’s most charismatic fauna, from bald eagles to bighorn sheep.
There are few things more magical than watching a moose meander through dense willows or a bighorn sheep scamper across a ridge. Intimate experiences with wildlife touch the soul, stir the conservationist in each of us, and remind us of the importance of preserving our public lands, open spaces, and the imperative and irreplaceable habitat they harbor. Colorado is packed with abundant wildlife including moose, elk, bison, bighorn, pronghorn, bald eagles and black bears. Here are three of our favorite spots where the odds are good you’ll see these majestic creatures.
Colorado State Forest State Park
Referred to as “The Moose Capital of Colorado,” this park nestled in the northern reaches of the state near Walden straddles the Never Summer and Medicine Bow mountains. Perched at 10,000 feet on both sides of Cameron Pass, it has it all: jagged peaks, fall colors, alpine lakes, rugged wilderness, dense forest and willow-lined streams, which make ideal habitat for many animals, including elk, bald eagles, black bears, mule deer, beaver and fox. More than 600 moose live here year-round. With a lack of crowds and a range of exploration options, there’s something for everyone here. Enjoy the short one-mile hike to Lake Agnes, a 2.5-mile roundtrip adventure along the Lumberjack Trail, or head deeper into the backcountry for a weekend by traversing 6.5 miles one way to Kelly Lake or 7 miles one way to Clear Lake. The park also boasts bike trails, camp sites, huts and yurts for nightly rentals.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Glacially sculpted peaks, high alpine lakes, pristine tundra and sublime wildlife viewing opportunities make Rocky Mountain (RMNP) a crown jewel in the national park system. Elk abound on the east side in Estes Park, but for a more intimate experience, especially in Fall, when they are bugling and rutting, hit the Cub Lake Loop (start extremely early to avoid crowds). From your very first steps across the Big Thompson River and around the edge of Moraine Park, where enormous elk herds wander, this 6-plus-mile adventure delivers. The park is home to dozens of mammals and nearly 300 bird species, and it features over 300 miles of trails that offer countless opportunities to see bighorn, elk, picas, marmots, and eagles. Or just drive up and over Trail Ridge Road, which brings you from forest to a high alpine environment and back again as it cuts from one side of the park to the other.
Once you drop into the cooler, wetter, lushly vegetated west side of RMNP, home to the headwaters of the Colorado River and the wildlife-rich Kawuneechee Valley, opportunities to spy a moose, even in roadside meadows, increase exponentially. Leave the car behind and hoof it through the Green Mountain-Onahu Loop, a moderate 8-miler that meanders along a mountain stream and through tranquil forest teeming with wildflowers. A visit to Big Meadows is a major highlight and it offers beautiful peak views, plentiful blossoms and opportunities to ogle more ungulates.
Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Fall brings Sandhill cranes, geese, and tons of other waterfowl to the San Luis Valley as they head south for winter. It’s estimated that as many as 20,000 cranes stop in the Refuge. Time your visit right and you’ll ramble along the nature trail or the edges of marshy ground to see hordes of birds congregated in wetland areas and grasslands where they are resting and refueling before beginning their journey to the Gulf Coast for winter. Though birds get all the press down here, those seeking four-legged critters may also catch a glimpse of resident deer and elk, coyotes, porcupines and beaver year-round.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Want to snap an image of the Denver skyline with a beautiful bison in the foreground? Located just 15 miles from downtown Denver, Rocky Mountain Arsenal—a 15,000-acre expanse of short and mixed grass prairie that ranks as one of the largest urban refuges in the country—harbors more than 330 wildlife species, including mule deer, coyotes, songbirds, bald eagles, black-footed ferrets and, you guessed it, upward of 50 bison. Originally a weapons testing and building facility, its designation as a Superfund cleanup site and then a National Wildlife Refuge turned Rocky Mountain Arsenal into a unique wild landscape. Discover this special oasis via an 11-mile loop drive and by exploring over 10 miles of hiking trails that wind through woodland, wetland and grassland habitat.