Wildlife of the Mountain Parks

Dawn and dusk are your best bet for spotting animals in their natural setting.  An evening drive can yield spectacular results.  The accessibility of wildlife in the parks can lead to some concern, however. It’s important to keep in mind that these are wild animals.

Bears

Black Bear

Both black and grizzly bears can occasionally be spotted along highways as they feed on spring dandelions or late-summer buffaloberries.  It’s not always easy to tell the two types of bears apart.  Black bears may be any colour, so colour itself is a poor indicator.  Instead, look for a prominent shoulder hump and a slightly dished-in appearance on the face, a sure sign that you’re watching a grizzly.

Bighorn Sheep or Mountain Goats?

Bighorn Sheep

While bighorn sheep make regular appearances along the roadside, mountain goats do not.  To help you correctly identify them, remember that mountain goats are snow white in colour.  Only male bighorn sheep get the large full-curl horns from which they take their names.  Females only have small, goat-like horns.

The Many Members of the Deer Family

Elk

A visit to the Rockies can treat you to no less than five different members of the deer family.  This includes white-tail and mule deer, elk or wapiti, moose, and even mountain caribou in the northern reaches. 

You’ll likely see more animals while you’re driving.  Mule and white-tailed deer, along with large populations of elk or wapiti line many of the highways.  They graze the grassy roadside shoulders and hillsides taking advantage of plentiful forage. 

Keep Them Wild; Keep Yourself Safe

In order to keep the animals safe and your visit memorable, stay in your vehicle when you see an animal.  They are very large and equally as fast.  Only stop your vehicle if it is safe to do so, blind corners and steep hills can obscure other drivers’ view of your vehicle.  Avoid feeding or enticing animals to move closer.  Animals and birds that approach humans for handouts are much more like to lash out defensively if they feel threatened. Help us keep the wild in wildlife.

Don’t forget to keep your camera and binoculars ready for action. Wildlife encounters often happen with little warning and end just as fast.