Colorado’s 42 state parks provide habitat for an abundance of wildlife species. From the high country montane forests at State Forest State Park in northern Colorado to the desert southwest habitat of Trinidad Lake State Park in the southern portion of the state, wildlife watchers have the ability to see a variety of unique species that call Colorado home. If one ventures away from the metro area they will not only treat themselves to a diversity of habitats and wildlife viewing opportunities but also to an adventure to some lesser travelled parts of the state. Below is a listing of select parks along the border of Colorado that offer quality watchable wildlife viewing. So take a wildlife watching road trip this summer and visit these parks along the edges of our state!
While on your adventure, make the most of your state park visit by staying overnight. CPW offers more than 4,000 campsites and 58 cabins and yurts located throughout the state, the perfect escape is only a click or phone call away. Take a look at our interactive map or begin customizing your experience now by searching the activities and facilities tabs in the Park Finder.
The treasure of water on the dry Eastern Plains…that’s what attracts birds, wildlife and people to John Martin State Park. Built along the Arkansas River, this large reservoir is a mecca for birdwatchers and a major site along the Colorado Birding Trail. Over 400 species have been documented on the water, along the shore and in surrounding woodlands and grassy uplands. Least terns and piping plovers, two federally protected species, nest here in spring and summer. Both mule deer and whitetail deer can be seen in the park as well as the occasional bobcat.
Roadrunners don’t just live in the desert, their range stretches into Southeastern Colorado and they can often be seen by cruising the state park roadways at John Martin State Park. Park Manager Dan Kirmer suggests looking near the Red Shin Standing Ground and near the Lake Hasty campground for your best shot of catching a glimpse of these elusive ground-loving birds. When people think about watchable wildlife, they often think of animals such as mammals and birds but John Martin is also a great location to see unique arthropods including tarantulas and the predatory tarantula hawk, a large wasp that as its name suggest preys upon tarantulas. These critters can most commonly be seen in late summer by driving or hiking along the roadways and hiking trails of the park.
At Trinidad Lake State Park one can expect to see a plethora of wildlife. Park Manager, Crystal Dreiling reports the following species can be seen throughout the park on a fairly common basis: roadrunner, desert cottontail, pocket gopher, deer, bobcat, coyote, and fox. Blue heron can best be seen along the west end of the park while beaver can be seen frequenting the Long's Canyon area. Reptile species that can be found throughout the park include bullsnake, prairie racerunner and the red-lipped plateau lizard.
Seven species of bats are known in the area (four that are considered rare), including the hoary bat and the little brown bat. Look during the evening along woodlands and rock outcrops for your best chance at seeing these bat species.
Steamboat Lake State Park – Steamboat Lake is known for its nesting Sandhill Cranes. The birds arrive in April and begin their courtship displays in the snow. Crane pairs usually select an isolated of a stream to build their nests and hatch their colts. Adults and colts can be seen in willows and in the surrounding open fields while feeding. Keep an eye out while driving from the Visitor Center around to Meadow Point. Cranes in our area are a rusty red color rather than the usually seen gray plumage because they use our high-iron mud for preening. The mud stains their feathers a rusty brown color.
In summer, Steamboat Lake has a large hummingbird population including four different species of hummingbirds. Broad-tailed hummingbirds are the first to arrive in early May. Later in the summer, Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned hummingbirds show up. Calliope Hummingbirds are seen yearly as they migrate to their high mountain nesting areas. All species can be seen at the numerous wildflowers in the park as well as the hummingbird feeders at the visitor center.
The Tombstone Nature Trail is a short, 1-mile hiking trail where a wide variety of wildlife can be seen. Mule deer are commonly seen in this area along with squirrels, chipmunks and a wide variety of birds.
Moose, of course, is the claim to fame of State Forest State Park. They can be seen at the park year round which surprises many as they believe moose move to lower elevations in the winter. The truth is that they walk on stilts so snow is no issue for them. There are approximately 600 in Jackson County and perhaps 300 are here in the park. They prefer cooler temperatures so dusk and dawn are the best times during the day to see them. Come mid June a person might even get a glimpse of a calf.
River otters are also a treat that can be seen at State Forest. Park Manager, Joe Brand, recently saw one crossing the parking lot of the visitor center! However, the best locations in the park to spot them include the Ranger Lakes, North Michigan Reservoir, the Michigan River and the Canadian River. The Moose Visitor Center by the way is a must visit location when visiting the park.
Other wildlife that can be seen include elk, deer, pronghorn, fox, coyote, marmot, beaver, weasel, mink, pine marten, squirrel, chipmunks, skunks, cottontails and jack rabbits.
A last note as you plan your state park watchable wildlife adventure this summer – please remember that we have a responsibility to observe proper etiquette when viewing wildlife to ensure that we do not disturb them. Please see the Ethical Viewing Tips page.
Chatfield BirdwalkSaturday, May 28
Join naturalist & bird expert Joey Kellner in exploring various areas inside the park in search of feathered treasure. All ability levels are welcome. No sign-up necessary. Meet at the Platte River parking lot. No pets. Dress for the weather. Sunscreen and insect repellant as needed.
Green Ranch Hike at Golden Gate Canyon State ParkSaturday, June 4
Join volunteer naturalist John Moyer for an exclusive tour of the Green Ranch property at Golden Gate Canyon State Park; an area that is closed to the public the majority of the year. John will share information on the flora, fauna, and history of the area while seeing the breath-taking views. Please RSVP.
Moth NightSaturday, June 4
Come celebrate National Moth Week by tracking moths with insect experts from the Mile High Bug Club.
Creatures of the Night at Golden Gate CanyonFriday, June 10
Join us for this fantastic program from Nature's Educators, who will teach us about creatures that are active at night. They will bring an owl and a few other creepy-crawly critters to help show off their amazing adaptations!
Chatfield BirdwalkSaturday, June 25
Be a Naturalist!Saturday, June 25
Jr. Ranger Program. Kids – do you love nature? Bring a parent and let the Park Interpreter show you how to use your love for the great outdoors as a naturalist, or someone who studies nature. This is a two-hour program. This easy hike will have you on your way to becoming an Eleven Mile State Park Jr. Ranger!
Green Ranch Hike at Golden Gate Canyon State ParkSaturday, July 2
Chatfield BirdwalkSaturday, July 30
Select a pin point for a description of the location and wildlife viewing information. There are over 200 sites to choose from. These sites are also published on the official Map to Colorado. Order yours today (included with the Vacation Guide). Look for the brown wildlife viewing signs at (most) location destinations. Download our wildlife viewing tips and checklist to use on your next wildlife viewing adventure.