11 Animals in the Flathead National Forest Seen on Our Hikes (Photos and tips Included)

flathead national forest
Discover 11 animals in the Flathead National Forest from our hikes, with photos and expert wildlife viewing tips.

Ready to meet some of the coolest neighbors around Flathead National Forest? Grab your boots and binoculars because we’re going on a wildlife adventure!

Our recent hikes through Montana’s treasure trove of trails led us to encounters with some pretty awesome forest residents. We’re talking about majestic bald eagles ruling the skies and stealthy mule deer tiptoeing through the underbrush.

Our journey wasn’t just a walk in the park; it was a real-life sneak peek into the day-to-day of Flathead’s furry and feathered inhabitants.

We got up close and personal (not too close, safety first!) with 11 different animals who showed off their wilderness skills.

And guess what? We’re sharing our sightings, complete with snapshots and tips on how you can spot these critters yourself. So lace up, and let’s hit the trail to discover the animals in the Flathead National Forest that made our hikes unforgettable!


We were lucky enough to see a few of these guys up close and they are truly amazing creatures. Here are some facts about porcupines that we learned while on our hike:

Porcupine buffalo gap national park 1

Porcupines are large rodents with short legs and small eyes. They are covered in quills, which are actually modified hairs. These quills are very sharp and can cause serious injury if not handled properly.

Porcupines are found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. In North America, they range from Alaska all the way down to Mexico.

Porcupines are mostly nocturnal animals, meaning they are active at night. During the day, they sleep in trees or underground burrows.

Porcupines eat a variety of plants and animals, including bark, leaves, roots, insects, small mammals, and carrion (dead animals).

Porcupines mate in late summer/early fall. After a gestation period of about 7 months, 1-4 offspring (called “porcupettes”) is born. Porcupettes have soft quills at birth, which harden within a few hours.

Mule deer

While we were hiking in the Flathead Forest, we saw plenty of mule deer. They are often seen in pairs or small groups, but we also saw a few solitary deer. 

Mule deer flathead national forest

Mule deer are very curious and will often approach hikers to investigate them. If you are lucky, you may even get a chance to pet one!

Mule deer are named for their large, mule-like ears. They have a reddish brown coat with white spots and a white tail with a black tip. 

Mule deer are herbivores, so they feed on grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation. They are also known for their impressive jumping ability and can leap up to 10 feet in the air!

Mule deer are important to Montana’s ecology as they provide food for many different predators, including wolves and mountain lions. They are also a popular game animal, providing both meat and trophies.


We were hiking along a trail when we saw something large and brown moving through the woods. 

Moose flathead national forest

At first, we thought it was a bear, but then we realized it was a moose! We watched as it walked through the forest, stopping to eat leaves and branches. It was an amazing sight!

Northern Pygmy Owl

The Northern Pygmy Owl is a small owl found in North America. Adult owls are about 8 to 10 inches in length and have a wingspan of about 20 inches. 

Northern Pygmy Owl flathead national forest 1

They are brown or gray with white spots on their chest and belly. Their eyes are large and yellow, and they have a black beaks.

Pygmy owls eat small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews. They hunt by sitting on a perch and watching for their prey. When they see an animal, they swoop down and grab it with their talons.

These owls live in forests, but they can also be found in urban areas. In the winter, they sometimes travel south to find food.

Black bear

Black bears are not always black; they can be white, blonde, or even red. Adult black bears weigh between 200 and 600 pounds, with males being larger than females. 

Black bear flathead national forest

Females typically give birth to two to three cubs at a time. Black bears are omnivores and their diet consists of plants, fruits, nuts, insects, small mammals, and carrion. 

Black bears can be found throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico. They prefer forests and wooded areas but are also known to venture into suburban neighborhoods in search of food.

In the Flathead Forest in Montana, black bear populations are increasing. The bears are protected by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and it is illegal to hunt or trap them. 

Visitors should be aware of the potential presence of black bears in the area and take precautions to prevent bear-human conflict. 

These include carrying bear spray, making noise when walking through dense vegetation, and not leaving food or garbage out in the open.


Gophers are small, burrowing rodents that are found in the Flathead Forest of Montana. They are shy animals that hikers do not often see, but they are an important part of the forest ecosystem. 

Gophers flathead national forest

Gophers play a crucial role in aerating and fertilizing the soil, which helps to create a healthy environment for other plants and animals. 

Gophers are herbivores, meaning they feed mostly on grasses, roots, and other vegetation. They have large cheek pouches that help them carry food back to their burrows. Female gophers give birth to up to eight young each year. Gophers can live for up to four years in the wild.

Gophers are important animals in the Flathead Forest as they help to maintain the balance of nature by aerating and fertilizing the soil. They also provide food for predators like hawks, foxes, and coyotes. 

However, gopher populations can be threatened by habitat destruction from human activities such as logging and development. Conservation efforts are needed to ensure that these small rodents remain part of the forest ecosystem for many generations to come.


We saw quite a few rabbits while hiking in the Flathead Forest. They were mostly cottontails, but we also saw a few jackrabbits. The rabbits were usually near the edge of the trail, hopping around in the vegetation. 

Rabbits flathead national forest

We didn’t get too close to them, but we did see one rabbit that was sitting in the middle of the trail. It just sat there and watched us as we walked by.


The majestic elk is the largest member of the deer family in North America. bulls can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and stand six feet at the shoulder. cows usually weigh between 500-700 pounds. Elk are excellent swimmers and can run up to 35 miles per hour.

Elk flathead national forest

Elk are most active at dawn and dusk but may be active at any time of day or night. They spend much of their time grazing on grasses, plants, and shrubs. In the summer, they eat up to 12 pounds of vegetation a day! 

Elk live in herds consisting of several females and their offspring, led by a dominant male.

During the fall mating season or rut, bull elks compete for cows by bugling — a loud, low-pitched call that echoes through the mountains. 

Bugling starts as early as late August and may continue into November. The bulls also engage in physical contests, such as antler wrestling and wallowing (rolling around in the mud).

calves are born in May or early June after a gestation period of 240-250 days. Cows generally give birth to twins or triplets, which they care for until they are old enough to join a herd themselves.


While hiking in the Flathead Forest, we saw a lot of different animals. One of the most exciting was seeing a beaver! 

Beavers flathead national forest

We heard them before we saw them, as they were chopping down trees near the river. It was really cool to watch them work and see how they use their tails to help them swim.


As we hiked through the Flathead forest in Montana, we were lucky enough to see a variety of different animals. One of the most exciting animals we saw was a hawk. Hawks are predators that can be found all over the world. 

Hawks flathead national forest

These birds of prey are known for their keen eyesight and powerful hunting abilities. We were amazed by the hawk’s ability to fly swiftly and gracefully through the air. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold!

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep are majestic creatures are known for their large horns and shaggy coats, and they can often be seen grazing on grasses and other plants. 

Bighorn sheep flathead national forest

While bighorn sheep are generally peaceful animals, they can be aggressive if they feel threatened, so it’s important to give them plenty of space if you encounter them on a hike.

Tips for Spotting Wildlife in Flathead National Forest

When you’re hiking through the diverse landscapes of Flathead National Forest, every sense is an asset for wildlife spotting. Here are some specific tips to increase your chances of seeing the park’s inhabitants in their natural habitat:

  1. Understand the Ecosystems: Flathead National Forest boasts several ecosystems, from wetlands to dense forests and alpine meadows. Familiarize yourself with the types of animals typically found in each area. For instance, moose frequent marshy lake edges, while mountain goats are more commonly spotted on high-elevation rocky outcrops.
  2. Timing is Key: Dawn and dusk are when many animals are most active. Plan to be on the trails during these times. Specifically, the crepuscular hours are great for sighting deer and elk as they feed.
  3. Stay Quiet and Inconspicuous: Animals are keenly attuned to noise and movement. When hiking, minimize loud conversations and keep movement smooth and slow. In areas like the dense cedar forests, quieter hikers may have the chance to spot elusive lynxes or martens.
  4. Look for Signs: Animal tracks, scat, and markings on trees can lead you to wildlife. Be aware of bear rub trees—trees where bears have left claw marks—found throughout the forest’s lower and middle elevations.
  5. Use Binoculars: A good pair of binoculars will allow you to observe wildlife from a safe distance without disturbing them. This is especially useful for bird watching in the Jewel Basin area, where you can spot species like the Peregrine Falcon or the Harlequin Duck.
  6. Check Recent Sightings: Stop by a ranger station to ask about recent wildlife sightings. Rangers can often tell you where animals have been active lately, like the grizzlies in the North Fork area or the wolves near Whitefish Divide.
  7. Follow the Water: Rivers and lakes are hotspots for animal activity. The Flathead River corridor, for instance, is an excellent place to look for bald eagles, ospreys, and river otters.
  8. Respect the Habitat: Stick to trails to avoid disrupting wildlife homes, especially during sensitive times like nesting or mating seasons. Areas such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex require extra care as they are prime habitats for many species.
  9. Be Bear Aware: Flathead is bear country. Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and follow all food storage regulations. Hike in groups when possible, as bears tend to avoid larger gatherings of people.
  10. Join a Guided Hike: Occasionally, guided hikes are offered by naturalists familiar with the forest. They can provide a wealth of information and take you to the best spots for wildlife viewing.

By following these tips tailored to the unique environments of Flathead National Forest, you’ll increase your chances of an unforgettable wildlife encounter. Remember to keep a safe distance from any animals you do spot, not only for your safety but also to preserve the natural behaviors and habitat of the forest’s wildlife.


Taking a hike through the Flathead Forest in Montana was an incredible experience. We got to see so many amazing animals and take in some of the beauty that nature has to offer. From elk, deer, and moose to bears, eagles, and hawks, it was an unforgettable journey that truly showed us how diverse wildlife can be. If you ever get a chance to go hiking in this area of Montana, don’t pass it up – you’ll be sure to have a wonderful time!

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