Elk & Deer
Elk are some of the most commonly sighted animals in Rocky Mountain National Park, and there are several prime viewing locations on the parks’s east and west sides. In the east, look for them in Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine and Horseshoe parks. In the west, elk can be spotted in Holzwarth and Harbison meadows, and throughout Kawuneeche Valley. Elk descend from their high country summer grazing grounds for mating season in September and October. At this time visitors can witness the bull elk competing for mating rights. This habit is usually preceded by a mating call — “bugling” — that can be heard during early morning hours.
Mule deer are also ubiquitous throughout the park, although that hasn’t always been the case. So-called for their long ears, the deer were once abundant in the region, but their numbers dwindled in the late 19th and early 20th centures due to habitat loss and hunting. A ban on the latter in 1913 helped jumpstart a comeback. The removal of predators from the park also aided the turnaround. Deer can be seen in open areas, where they graze on shrubs. During the summer, the animals move to higher elevations, often above the tree line.
Moose prefer the wetlands near the Colorado River’s headwaters in Kawuneeche Valley, on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Interestingly enough, this isn’t a natural habitat for the lumbering giants. Historical records from the 1850s suggests that moose were only transient inhabitants of the region, and they weren’t at all common in the park until the late 1970s, after about two dozen animals had been introduced to the region from the Grand Teton area by humans.
Majestic bighorn sheep have seen their share of drama in Rocky Mountain National Park, having been rescued from the brink of extinction. While their numbers ran in the thousands when the first settlers came to Estes Park, hunting — the animals were prized for their magnificent horns, as well as their meat — and the introduction of domestic sheep devastated the bighorn population. Diseases like pneumonia and scabies, carried by the domestic herds, proved fatal for the wild ones.
By the 1950s all the lowland herds of bighorn sheep were gone. Only the high-country herds of the Mummy and Never Summer Mountains escaped obliteration. These herds flourished due to restrictions on ranching an hunting, and by the late 1970s, bighorn sheep had been reintroduced to their original ranges. Today, visitors can see bighorn rams butting heads on mountainsides during mating season.