Bighorn Sheep

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About Bighorn Sheep

Although Bighorn sheep prefer the grasses of an open meadows, they find safety on rocky ledges and rugged terrain. They are nimble and have a well-developed sense of balance, allowing them to seemingly walk on sheer cliffs and mountain sides. Newborn lambs are prey for Bald Eagles and mountain lions. The tremendous horns of the male sheep are for the purpose of defending from predators and in battling among themselves for control of the harem. Battling rams will get a running start and crash head first, resulting in a sound similar to a rifle shot.

Where to See Bighorn Sheep

Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park is probably the best spot. Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Area in Wyoming is another great choice. And, unlike the others, you are absolutely guaranteed to see Bighorn Sheep in Oak Creek Wildlife Area (Naches, WA) during the wintertime, when they set up feeding stations for the local wildlife (including elk). But there are many more places listed below.

Bighorn sheep are active throughout the day, with several periods of foraging interspersed with periods of grooming, sleeping, and/or playing (often ewes with young lambs and lambs with one another). Although typically associated with rough, rocky, open terrain, bighorn sheep can be found on alpine slopes above tree line to the shrub and timber covered canyon lands of lower elevations.

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Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park

There are several species of bighorn sheep can be found in western North America:

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) can be found throughout the Rocky Mountains; from Canada to southern New Mexico, from the western Dakotas to parts of Washington and Oregon.

Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsonii) can be found throughout the desert southwest of the United States in portions of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California, and in northwestern portions Mexico. For more information on this sub-species, see the Where to see Desert Bighorn Sheep page.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. (Ovis canadensis sierra) Formerly called the California Bighorn Sheep. Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep occur only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Specifically, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep inhabit portions of the Sierra Nevada located along the eastern boundary of California in Tuolumne, Mono, Fresno, Inyo, and Tulare Counties. For more information on this sub-species, see the Where to see Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep page.

Bighorn Sheep Range in North America

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep are commonly seen at Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August. In the summer, bighorn sheep are seen at Sheep Lakes in Horseshoe Park on the east side of Rocky Mountain Park. Hikers on the Specimen Mountain trail may also encounter sheep. The October-November rut brings head-butting contests on the mountainsides. In the winter, look for them on sunny south-facing slopes, particularly along Fall River in Estes Park and the Big Thompson canyon east of Estes in Roosevelt National Forest. And when grass begins to sprout in the spring, they come down to roadsides and lawns to munch the tasty new growth. May is lambing time and they are less visible.

Bighorn sheep are the living symbol of not only Rocky Mountain National Park itself, but also the splendid mountain range for which the park is named. Bighorns are well suited to the steep and rugged environment of the Rockies: Sure-footed and limber, they can make the precarious jumps and steep climbs necessary to get around. In the summer, they spend a lot of time around the appropriately named Sheep Lakes. You'll probably also see them in packs in the special Bighorn Crossing Zone on Highway 34.

To see the sheep in their alpine range, a short but strenuous trail near Milner Pass leads the bighorn sheep enthusiast to the edge of The Crater, where bighorn sheep may be viewed from a distance. This trail is closed during the spring lambing season in May through mid-July. The closure is necessary so sheep can move to and from The Crater and the feeding grounds of the alpine tundra.

Bighorn Sheep, male, in Rocky Mountain National Park


Elk and Bison roam free on the 18,500-acre National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge, 45 miles north of Missoula, in Montana. These Elk and Bison graze on mountain prairie grasses with other ungulates such as white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorns and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. Visitors often see black bears and coyotes; a look overhead reveals eagles, hawks and other birds. -- Jean Arthur

Zion National Park, Utah

In Zion National Park, in Utah, hike the Canyon Overlook Trail for your best chance to see Desert Bighorn Sheep -- William S. Howard


Utah is home to more than 4,000 bighorn sheep. This total includes more than 3,000 desert bighorns, and more than 1,000 Rocky Mountain bighorns. Most of Utah's desert bighorns live in the deserts of southern Utah, while Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are found mostly along the Green River corridor (from Flaming Gorge to the city of Green River) and on Timpanogos and Provo peaks near Provo. Desert bighorns also live on the Newfoundland Mountains and Antelope Island State Park in northern Utah. Bighorn Sheep can sometimes be seen while boating on Flaming Gorge Reservoir, floating the Green River and hiking in some parts of the San Rafael Swell.


Those seeking a peek at magnificent bighorn sheep have the greatest success in the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Area near Dubois from November to March. The largest herd of wintering Rocky Mountain bighorns in North America inhabits the area, as do elk, mule deer, moose, golden eagles and beavers. But Bighorn Sheep are the star attraction: Whiskey Basin is home for 1,200 bighorns, the largest herd in the world. ~ Lori Hogan. See Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Area.

Yellowstone National Park

Bighorn are not often seen in Yellowstone National Park, mainly because of the limited areas where they are found. But if you are in Yellowstone, look for them along the cliffs and steep hills on the road from Mammoth to Gardiner in the northern section of the park. Rocky outcrops in the Lamar Valley are also good places to look. But overall, the northern locations are best.

Bighorn Sheep, profile, in Rocky Mountain Park


The 40,366-acre Oak Creek unit is west of Naches. A winter feeding program is conducted annually to help reduce conflict with neighboring landowners. Bighorn sheep and elk are fed during the winter, and the bighorn sheep feeding station is located at the Cleman Mountain site on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Because they are fed, you are guaranteed to see the animals, with closeup views as short as 10 feet. Bald and Golden Eagles are also plentiful during the winter months. See Oak Creek Wildlife Area and also the Feeding Program:

  • Driving Directions: From I-5 south of Olympia, east on Hwy 12. HQ entrance is 10 mi. east of Rimrock Retreat on left (north) side. From I-82 at Yakima, west on Hwy 12 through Naches. Four mi. west of Naches, turn left at Junction to White Pass. Proceed 2 mi. to HQ entrance on right (north) side.
  • Parking/Restroom Information: Very large gravel parking area and viewing platform, with 3 vault toilets open year-round. Visitor center open 9a-4p during winter months (when elk feeding is underway) and staffed with Wildlife Education Corps volunteers.
  • Other Information: Viewing sites require a Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass to park Apr 1 - Dec 1. Large portion of upland range above HQ feedsite is closed March and April to all public entry to protect big game during winter recovery period.


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National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge

Rocky Mountain National Park