Mammals of Rocky Mountain National Park

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About Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in alpine meadow
Photo © Robin Wilson / Getty Images.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a US national park that is located in north-central Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is nestled within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and includes within its bounds over 415 square miles of mountain habitat. The park straddles the Continental Divide and features some 300 miles of hiking trails as well as Trail Ridge Road, a scenic road that tops out at more than 12,000 feet and boasts stunning alpine views. Rocky Mountain National Park provides habitat to a wide variety of wildlife.

In this slideshow, we'll explore the some of the mammals that inhabit Rocky Mountain National Park and learn more about where they live within the park and what their role is within the park's ecosystem.

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American Black Bear

American Black Bear
Photo © mlorenzphotography / Getty Images.

The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only bear species that currently inhabit Rocky Mountain National Park. Formerly, brown bears (Ursus arctos) also lived in the Rocky Mountain National Park as well as other parts of Colorado, but this is no longer the case. American black bears are not often seen within Rocky Mountain National Park and tend to avoid interactions with humans. Although black bears are not the largest of the bear species, they are nonetheless large mammals. Adults are commonly five to six feet long and weigh between 200 and 600 pounds.

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Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep walking in meadow
Photo © Dave Soldano / Getty Images.

Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), also known as mountain sheep, are found in the open, high-elevation habitats of the alpine tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bighorn sheep are also found throughout the Rockies and are the state mammal of Colorado. The coat color of bighorn sheep varies widely between regions but in Rocky Mountain National Park, their coat color tends to be a rich brown color that fades gradually throughout the year to a light grey-brown or white during the winter months. Both males and females have large spiral horns that are not shed and grow continuously.

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Bull Elk
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Elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as wapiti, are the second-largest member of the deer family, smaller than only the moose. Adult males grow to 5 feet tall (measured at the shoulder). They can weigh more than 750 pounds. Male elk have grey-brown fur on their body and darker brown fur on their neck and face. Their rump and tail are covered in lighter, yellow-brown fur. Female elk have a coat that is similar but more uniform in color. Elk are quite common throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and can be seen in open areas as well as forested habitats. Wolves, no longer present in the park, once kept elk numbers down and discouraged elk from wandering into the open grasslands. With wolves now absent from the park and their predatory pressure removed, elk wander wider and in greater numbers than before.

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Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Marmot standing on hind legs among wildflowers
Photo © Grant Ordelheide / Getty Images.

Yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) are the largest member of the squirrel family. The species is widespread throughout the mountains of western North America. Within Rocky Mountain National Park, yellow-bellied marmots are most common in areas where there are rock piles and ample vegetation. They are often found in the high, alpine tundra regions. Yellow-bellied marmots are true hibernators and start storing fat in late summer. In September or October, they retreat into their burrow where they hibernate until spring.

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Bull Moose standing among foliage
Photo © James Hager / Getty Images.

Moose (Alces americanus) are the largest member of the deer family. Moose are not native to Colorado but small numbers have established themselves in the state and in Rocky Mountain National Park. Moose are browsers that feed on leaves, buds, stems, and the bark of woody trees and shrubs. Moose sightings within Rocky Mountain National Park are more commonly reported on the Western Slope. A few sightings are also reported periodically on the east side of the park in the Big Thompson Watershed and Glacier Creek drainage area.

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Pika looking out from rocks
Photo © James Anderson / Getty Images.

The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is a species of pika that is recognizable for its small size, round body and short, round ears. American pikas live in alpine tundra habitats where the talus slopes provide suitable cover for them to avoid predators such as hawks, eagles, foxes, and coyotes. American pikas are found only above the tree line, at elevations higher than about 9,500 feet.

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Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion on rocky outcrop
Photo © Don Johnston / Getty Images.

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are among the largest predators in Rocky Mountain National Park. They can weigh as much as 200 pounds and measure as much as 8 feet long. The primary prey of mountain lions in the Rockies is mule deer. They also occasionally prey on elk and bighorn sheep as well as smaller mammals such as beaver and porcupine.

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Mule Deer

Mule Deer standing in snowy forest
Photo © Steve Krull / Getty Images.

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are found within Rocky Mountain National Park and are also common in the west, from the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast. Mule deer prefer habitats that provide some cover such as woodlands, brushlands, and grasslands. In summer, mule deer have a reddish-brown coat which turns grey-brown in winter. The species is notable for their very large ears, white rump, and bushy black-tipped tail.

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Coyote walking through field
Photo © Danita Delimont / Getty Images.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) occur throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. Coyotes have a tan or buff to reddish-grey coat with a white belly. Coyotes feed on a variety of prey including rabbits, hares, mice, voles, and squirrels. They also eat the carrion of elk and deer. 

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Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare sitting and eating leaves
Photo © Art Wolfe / Getty Images.

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are moderate-sized hares that have large hind feet which enable them to move efficiently on the snow-covered ground. Snowshoe hares are restricted to mountain habitats within Colorado and the species occurs throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. Snowshoe hares prefer habitats with dense shrub cover. They occur at elevations between 8,000 and 11,000 feet.

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Klappenbach, Laura. "Mammals of Rocky Mountain National Park." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Klappenbach, Laura. (2020, August 26). Mammals of Rocky Mountain National Park. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "Mammals of Rocky Mountain National Park." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 28, 2021).