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5 Winter Destinations for Wildlife Viewing

Most people tend to associate wildlife viewing with the summer, when it’s easier to get out into nature by hiking, biking, ATV’ing or camping. But in Colorado, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for seeing animals throughout the year even if you choose to stay closer to civilization. From larger mammals like moose and bighorn sheep to a variety of bird life and even foxes and coyotes, the local fauna can vary widely. While you’ll certainly increase your chances of seeing an animal if you venture into the backcountry on snowshoes or skis, you can also consider wildlife refuges, which frequently provide roads and sometimes even tours of the area. Depending on your destination, you may even find that you can see plenty of wildlife from the comfort and safety of your vehicle.

Not sure where to start? Here are five locations for wildlife viewing during the winter months.

Estes Park & Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife Viewing in Rocky Mountain National ParkNo matter what season you decide to go, Rocky Mountain National Park and the neighboring town of Estes Park make for a great place to see a wide variety of critters. At the beginning of October, Estes Park celebrated the local elk population (over 1000 live in Rocky Mountain National Park) with an annual festival, but don’t think that means the wildlife viewing season has come to an end. That said, with elk hunting season currently under way, you may wish to wait until December before you go looking for elk and other big game species.

State Forest State Park

Wildlife Viewing: State Forest State Park Moose

Located in Walden, CO, roughly halfway between Fort Collins and Steamboat Springs, State Forest State Park makes its claim to fame on the thriving local moose population. The moose visitor center is great place to get oriented before heading out to search for the 600 moose that inhabit the area year round. While you’re exploring, keep an eye for the variety of bird species from eagles to grouse and songbirds, as well as smaller mammals like hares, weasels, and porcupines. Lodging, including cabins and yurts, is available throughout the winter.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is home to numerous species, but if you’re visiting during the winter, keep an eye out for the mule deer that live throughout the area. Not only are they one of the most commonly sighted animals in the park, but the winter months are the perfect time for viewing, when fewer people are around and the snow drives them to lower elevations in search of food. Visiting during late fall and early winter is an opportunity to see mating rituals, while late winter and early spring allows plenty of viewing where the snow has begun to melt and fresh grass is starting to grow.

Georgetown & I70

The cliffs above Georgetown and Interstate 70 west of Denver are well-known for accommodating large herds of bighorn sheep, and visitors flock to the area during the summer. Often, however, winter is the better time to catch these huge animals as they head down to the highway. Less snow and the use of salt on the highways means that large herds can be spotted right in the breakdown lane (if you’re driving when you spot them, move to the other lane to avoid a collision). A viewing area along the highway provides the perfect spot to safely snap photos while the town of Georgetown has restaurants, lodging, and a quaint downtown to explore while you wait for a chance to spot a bighorn.

The San Luis Valley

Wildlife Viewing: Cranes in the San Luis Valley Three separate wildlife refuges are located in the San Luis Valley – the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, and the Baca Wildlife Refuge. The region is home to a huge diversity of habitats from sand dunes to wetlands to shrublands, and consequently it attracts an equally diverse range of species. Birds, in particular, are incredibly varied and include species that inhabit the valley year-round, as well as numerous migratory species. At the top of the list of attractions are the 20,000 sandhill cranes that migrate through the wetlands at the start and end of each winter. Raptors are also common throughout the winter months. In addition to the 200+ species of birds, there are plenty of large and small mammals that call the parks home during the winter months.

Whether you’re an avid birder, or you’re hoping to catch your first view of an elk, winter is a great time for wildlife viewing throughout the state.

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