Interacting Safely with Wildlife in Routt County

Routt County is home to a large variety of animals big and small. Our mountains, forests, valleys, and rivers provide lush habitats for deer, moose, elk, mountain lions, marmots, pikas, bears, skunks, ermines, raccoons, coyotes, porcupines, beavers, foxes, rabbits, and many varieties of birds and fish. No matter what time of year you visit this area, your chances of seeing wildlife are high. These encounters can be awe-inspiring experiences that create lasting memories. However, it is important to know ahead of time how to act appropriately around wild animals in the interest of both their safety and your own. Here are some tips for viewing wildlife safely and responsibly during your visit to Steamboat Springs.

Elk grazing in Steamboat Springs

Where to Observe Wildlife in Steamboat

Truthfully, you’re just as likely to see a moose hanging out downtown as you are on the side of any hiking trail in Steamboat Springs, but here are a few places to plan adventures in and around Steamboat specifically for trying to spy wildlife. Before you go, be sure to stop by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife headquarters for more detailed maps and safety information.

Rotary Park Boardwalk 

Accessible from the Yampa Core Trail, the Rotary Park Boardwalk is a fish and bird habitat that can be accessed for free year round. Signs posted along the trail offer information about the animals and environment. All pets must be leashed. Grab a local bird guide at Off the Beaten Path or Ski Haus before you go to help identify birds local to Routt County including the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Stellar Jay, Magpie, and more. Marshy areas such as this are also a great place to witness moose taking a drink of water or hanging out in the shady willows.

Wildlife-Frequented Hiking Trails

Some of the town’s most popular recreational trails are frequently the sites of wildlife sightings. It is possible to see moose, elk, and deer munching on plants alongside either of these trials. Should you encounter a moose, elk, or deer remember to observe the animal calmly and quietly from a safe distance. These animals should be viewed from at least 75+ feet, and know that moose are known to be aggressive creatures.

Hiking in the Flat Tops Wilderness

Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area

Located just south of town off of Hwy 131, Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area is a habitat for many species, but it is especially known for being a popular destination for sandhill cranes during the spring migration. Bring a pair of binoculars and observe these incredible cranes doing their lavish mating dances. Fishing is also permitted at Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.

Tips For Interacting Safely with Wildlife

Whether you seek out wildlife or happen upon it unexpectedly, the following are some good general rules to follow in order to protect humans and animals alike. For more, visit the Colorado Parks & Wildlife office in Steamboat. Park rangers are eager to provide all kinds of valuable information to hunters, anglers, birders, and lovers of wildlife.

Keep Your Distance

Under no circumstances should you ever approach or try to touch a wild animal - or even try to get closer to one. Animals can behave aggressively and unpredictably when they feel threatened and are unlikely to view your photo op as a friendly gesture. Large animals especially such as moose, bears, and cats can easily do tremendous harm to humans they view as threats. Should you come across an animal you feel is in distress and you would like to help it, the best course of action is to keep a distance and call animal control. Well-meaning humans often do far more harm than good when they try to intervene on their own. This also means driving slowly in and around Steamboat and being aware that wildlife could very be well hiding in the bushes near the road.

Wildlife Viewing - distance is important

Watch Out for Your Food and Trash 

Bears are notorious dumpster divers and backpack thieves. Unattended food and, indeed, anything that carries the smell of food like empty wrappers and even toothpaste is bound to be a magnet for bears and other wildlife. The immediate problem, of course, is the loss of your food, destruction of your property, and most likely a big mess. The problem in the long term is that animals who become dependent on human food are nuisances that end up getting either removed to another location or put down. To feed animals, even inadvertently, is to put their lives at risk. Make sure when you go camping that you follow all bear safety protocols. If you are staying at a rental property, do not leave your trash can outside except on trash day, and make sure you always dispose of trash properly.

Observe Leash Laws

Always be respectful of rules regarding k9 access and leash laws. Keep your dog within sight and do not let it run far off trail. Remember that just because dogs are animals, that does not mean that they are part of the natural ecosystem. Pet dogs eat processed food rather than a diet of local plants and animals, meaning their waste can be harmful to the environment. Also, dogs that chase or harass wildlife are a tremendous safety risk to all parties involved. Look out for your pup’s best interest by making sure they stick right by your side.

A buck grazes in Steamboat Springs area in the fall.

Stay on Designated Trails 

Keep your environmental impact and chances of dangerous animal encounters to a minimum by staying on designated trails and obeying all signs and closures. Be aware that wildlife activity changes with the seasons and may impact access to certain areas. For instance, there are closures in the winter and spring for sensitive wildlife habitat areas like deer and elk winter range and elk calving. Click here for more information on seasonal closure in the Routt National Forest.

Give Animals the Right of Way

Be alert when you see signs for wildlife crossing while driving. Collisions with wildlife can do great harm not only to the animals, but to your vehicle and person as well.