Where To See Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park

bighorns rocky mountain

I’m just going to say it: The rangers at Fall River Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park were dishonest with me.

That may sound harsh. But the woman I spoke with on Monday about wildlife in the park told me not to bother trying to see bighorn sheep, because “they only come down from the mountains every couple of months.”

So imagine my amazement when I was headed to my campground around 7 pm and saw a line of bighorn females and their kids along the side of the road. They ran down towards a lake and stayed there for 20 minutes or so, drinking from the lake before crossing the road again and heading back up the hill.

And it turns out they come down far more frequently than I was led to believe.

bighorns road

Where to See Bighorn Sheep at Rocky Mountain NP

So where can you see bighorn sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park? Get ready for the mind-blowing answer. The best place to see them is at… Sheep Lakes. Shocking, right? The name may seem obvious, but if the rangers are going to mislead people, I feel it my duty to disseminate the accurate information.

The bighorns don’t come down everyday, but this is the best spot to catch a glimpse. They cross from the mountain on the other side of the street, waiting for cars to stop so they can get across, and then they run down to the lakes. Even if you know where to go to see the bighorns, there’s still an incredible amount of luck involved. If I had driven past literally three minutes earlier, I would have missed the entire thing and gone straight to my campground. The total surprise made this encounter even more rewarding than when I saw bighorn sheep in the Badlands.

I watched a group of about 15 sheep, which included at least six babies. They drank water and ate mud (it provides essential minerals) for a good 20 minutes before running back across the road and up out of sight.

A crowd gathered ‘round to watch the goings-on.

where to see bighorn sheep in rocky mountain national park

I spoke with a man who has been watching the bighorns for a decade now. He said this appearance by the sheep was their first in six days. Last Tuesday, two adults visited the lakes.

I can’t say exactly how often the sheep visit here, but they come down often enough that the National Park Service put log fences on the shoulders of the road so people can’t walk there. That way, the sheep have an easy path across the street without encountering pedestrians.

How cute are the little bighorns?

sheep family

I’m not sure why the ranger gave me incorrect information. Maybe this ranger misheard my question. Or perhaps she was passing along misinformation to protect the sheep by keeping tourists away from their favorite spot.

That would be an admirable fib justification, I suppose. But I trust national park attendees to be respectful of wildlife. And now you know the truth about where to see bighorn sheep.

Other bighorn sheep spots

Horseshoe Park is the name of the horseshoe-shaped portion of Route 34. This is definitely your best spot to see bighorn sheep. Sheep Lakes are located within this section, but don’t forget to drive the remaining half-mile on either side of the lakes to increase your opportunity to see them.

Elsewhere, some visitors have reported seeing sheep in the Poudre Canyon area. This canyon begins in the far north of the park and runs for 40 miles toward the town of Bellvue. Others report that sheep can be spotted outside the park along Route 34 between Big Thompson Canyon and the town of Estes Park.

For further reading, the NPS does have a more factual page on seeing sheep in the Rockies. Thankfully, this page has been updated to reflect the fact that sheep do come down to Sheep Lakes quite often, typically between 9 am and 3 pm.

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend Booking.com where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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16 Comments

  1. We visit RMNP in Late May and we usually see them in the Alluvial Fan area, way up on the mountain side. It’s far, but it’s fun to watch with binoculars : )

    1. Thanks for the tip. I really enjoy the close-up encounters, but watching through binoculars is nice too, since they are not being disturbed by people from that far away.

  2. They look so adorable, how fun that you got to see them! It sounds so bizarre that they would lie, yet maybe it was indeed to protect the animals or perhaps it was a new ranger who mixed some facts with others by mistake. Fortunately, you got to see them anyway 🙂 Did you see elks as well?

  3. I may not know much about the sheep in RMNP, but I do know that they are ALL over the rest of Colorado and I usually don’t have to try very hard to find one. They’re often hanging out along the craggy rocks outside of Georgetown, I’ve had them dash in front of my on my way up Berthoud Pass, and I’ve seen more than my fair share navigating the winding roads of Gilpin County. However, when one of my German friends came to visit me in Colorado, I promised her we’d get to see some ‘Dickhornschaffe’ (‘bighorn’ in German). We drove all over the state for eight days and didn’t see a single one. Maybe I only find them when I’m NOT trying to seek them out.

    1. I stopped by Georgetown this week and didn’t see any, so I was really happy to see them here. It often happens that you see wildlife when you’re not trying.

  4. I’d lie if I were the rangers, too. Sheep are evil and deserve nobody’s attention. I mean, have you seen their eyes? They have rectangular pupils. RECTANGULAR!

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