Things to Do

10 Ways to See More Wildlife

Watching elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Watching elk in Rocky Mountain National ParkGloria Wadzinski

1. Keep a safe distance.

If you’re close enough that the animal pays more attention to you than to its food or to its young, you’re too close. Back off.

2. Hike at a leisurely pace.

Take your time so you can look and listen for animal signs. Stop frequently to scan your surroundings and watch for motion.

3. Take long breaks.

Stop at vantage points overlooking (and downwind of) meadows, watering holes, and likely travel corridors, like game trails, and wait for wildlife to appear.

4. Hike in the right weather.

  • Overcast Many animals are most active on cloudy days, since scorching sun drives them into the shade, while rain sends them to their dens or bedding grounds.
  • No wind Your scent isn’t as likely to reach wildlife. Plus, animals, like people, tend to hunker down in high winds.
  • Stable Some animals react to coming fronts by bedding down.

5. Call wildlife biologists (at the park or a nearby university) and rangers 

Ask where animals concentrate. Most public agencies also post wildlife guides online.

6. Keep binocs/camera handy.

Rooting for them will scare off the animal.

7. Look for parts and portions. 

You’re more likely to spot a beak, tail, or antler than the entire animal.

8. Practice “scatter vision.”

Keep your eyes moving without letting them settle on one focal point (like the trail). This improves your ability to take in the whole scene and spot motion.

9. Sneak up ridges.

When you’re about to crest a ridge, slow down, get quiet, and peek over the edge, so you can spy on animals on the far side.

10. Observe prey animals.

If all the elk in a herd suddenly look in one direction, it’s an obvious sign that a mountain lion or bear is nearby.