Known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the mountain town of Estes Park sits at the pinnacle of wildlife watching. Not only can a wide variety of wildlife be seen throughout the park’s bounds, but also right within Estes Park’s downtown, where it’s not uncommon for an elk to be intermixed among the charming town’s buildings. Whether you hope to spot a few elk between shopping and dining outings in Estes Park or you plan to hike some of the great trails in the area in search of wildlife, Estes Park is a great place to see a wide variety of wildlife. On your Colorado getaway, be sure to add these top five Estes Park wildlife watching spots to the itinerary!
Downtown Estes Park
A popular stop when arriving in downtown Estes Park is the Estes Park Visitor Center, and this is also a hot spot for that first animal encounter. Elk can often be seen right near the Visitor Center in a large open meadow, as well as on the grounds of the nearby golf course. Many visitors are delighted to discover that an abundance of wildlife in Estes Park can be seen right from the town! Smaller mammals can also be seen throughout town, including chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits.
The shores of Lake Estes are a great place on which to set your sights for a day of birding. Here you’ll spot waterfowl, sandpipers, and gulls along the shoreline. The lake’s north shore is a popular spot for bald eagles to build their nests. Along the lake’s southern shore, the Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary offers a good vantage point for spotting mallards, redheads, widgeon, swans, gulls, Canadian geese, and pelicans, among others.
Fall River Road
While Trail Ridge Road is the well-polished route through the park, the original route was made along Fall River Road, which remains mostly gravel to this day. This 11-mile route makes its way from Horseshoe Park to Fall River Pass, with a speed limit of just 15 miles per hour. Heading down the historic Fall River Road is more about the journey than the destination. Keep your eye out for wild turkeys, which tend to be most active at dawn and dusk. Fall River Road also offers a good chance of spotting the elusive moose, bighorn sheep, and elk munching on foliage.
Located within Rocky Mountain National Park, Sheep Lakes is a beautiful meadow that offers stunning views of Horseshoe Park. The area actually gets its name from the vast number of bighorn sheep that flock here for the nutrients found in the lakes and mud. In fact, during peak seasons, it is not uncommon for park rangers to pause traffic for a sheep crossing! The best time for seeing bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes is during the spring and summer season. This is also a great location for viewing elk, especially during fall months.
Trail Ridge Road
Beginning in Estes Park and making its way through Rocky Mountain National Park to the town of Grand Lake, taking a road trip down Trail Ridge Road is a great way to see some of the park’s top sights as well as a good place to spot an abundance of wildlife. Though the road stretches for 48 miles (each direction), it’s possible to simply drive a portion before turning around and heading back to Estes Park. The road makes its way through evergreen forests, tundra, and alpine wildflowers, providing fantastic views at every turn. Once you’ve made it above the tree line, keep an eye out for marmots during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. They can often be spotted among the boulder fields along this scenic stretch of road. Moose can also be spotted along Trail Ridge Road, and are much easier to spot than marmots, with their large figures and trademark antlers.
Wildlife Watching Tips for Estes Park
While you’ll spot a variety of wildlife in Estes Park no matter the season, the best time for viewing elk and deer is during their mating and calving seasons, which are during fall and spring months. Even when spotting wildlife within the perceived safety of downtown, there are always some safety precautions to keep in mind. All of these animals are still wild, so viewers should keep their distance and should not try to approach or touch wildlife. Rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park recommend keeping a 75-foot distance (about two bus lengths) from elk and bighorn sheep and three bus lengths from bears and moose. Bringing along a camera with a zoom lens is a great way to capture some amazing wildlife shots while still keeping a respectful distance!
Estes Park Accommodations for Enjoying Estes Park Wildlife
Still in search of accommodations for your Estes Park wildlife expedition? These cabins situated along the shores of Lake Estes provide offer a perfect jumping-off point for enjoying the top five wildlife spots in Estes Park! Contact us today!