19 Animals in San Isabel National Forest Seen on Hikes (Photos and Tips Included)

San Isabel National Forest wildlife
Explore 19 captivating Animals in San Isabel National Forest! Dive into our guide for vibrant photos, trail tales, and top tips for a wild adventure.

Hey wildlife wanderers! Get ready to step into the wild heart of Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest, a jaw-droppingly beautiful wonderland of lush forests, sparkling lakes, and towering mountains.

And the real stars of the show? The incredible array of animals that call this place home!

Strap on your hiking boots and charge your camera batteries, because from the graceful leap of the Mule Deer to the sly grin of the Red Fox, we’ve got a wildlife adventure of a lifetime waiting for you.

We’ve roamed these trails and chronicled our top 19 animal encounters, all spiced up with vibrant photos and pro tips to turn you into a wildlife-watching wizard.

This guide isn’t just a list; it’s your personal invitation to a nature party thrown by the animals of San Isabel. Whether you’re a seasoned trailblazer or a casual nature lover, we guarantee a journey filled with awe-inspiring moments and furry friendships.

So, ready to unlock the secrets of the forest and meet its four-legged (and winged!) inhabitants? Let’s get wild!

Bullock’s oriole

The first bird we spotted was Bullock’s oriole in the San Isabel National Forest. This beautiful songbird is native to North America and was a real treat to see in its natural habitat.

The bright orange and black plumage of the males is stunning, and we were lucky enough to see a few pairs of these birds during our stay. 

Bullocks oriole San Isabel National Forest

Bullock’s orioles feed on insects, fruits and nectar. They are quite acrobatic, often flitting in the air to catch food or perching on foliage to secure a meal.

While they are common in many areas, they can be hard to spot in this forest as they prefer woodlands with dense vegetation. We were fortunate enough to see a few of them during our stay!

Black bear

The black bear is one of the most popular animals in North America, and they can be found in many different habitats. In the San Isabel National Forest, there are plenty of opportunities to see black bears in their natural habitat.

Black bear San Isabel National Forest

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re hoping to see a black bear while you’re in the forest. First, they are most active at dawn and dusk, so that’s the best time to look for them.

Second, they tend to stay away from areas where there are humans, so it’s important to give them space if you do see one.

Finally, don’t forget to bring your camera! Black bears are notoriously photogenic, and you’ll want to have a picture of your encounter with this amazing animal.

Mule deer

San Isabel National forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including mule deer. Mule deer are a type of deer that is native to western North America. They get their name from their large ears, which are similar to those of a mule.

Mule deer San Isabel National Forest

Mule deer are generally brown or gray in color, with a white rump and tail. They range in size from 3 to 5 feet long and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Males (bucks) are larger than females (does), and they also have antlers.

Mule deer are herbivores, meaning that they eat plants. Their diet consists mostly of grasses, leaves, and twigs. In the winter months, when food is scarce, they may also eat bark from trees.

Mule deer are generally shy animals, but they can be curious at times. If you’re lucky enough to see one while you’re hiking in San Isabel National Forest, be sure to enjoy the moment!

Mountain lions

Mountain lions are an iconic species of the American West, and San Isabel National Forest is home to a healthy population of these big cats.

We were fortunate enough to see several mountain lions during our time in the forest, and it was truly an amazing experience.

Mountain lions San Isabel National Forest

Mountain lions are apex predators, meaning they sit at the top of the food chain. They are solitary animals, and typically only come together to mate. Adult male mountain lions can weigh up to 200 pounds, while females can weigh up to 140 pounds.

Mountain lions are mostly nocturnal hunters, but they will also hunt during the day if they are hungry enough. They primarily prey on deer, but will also eat smaller animals like rabbits and squirrels. Mountain lions use their powerful hind legs to leap onto their prey and kill them with a quick bite to the neck.

If you’re lucky enough to see a mountain lion in the wild, it’s important to give them space and not approach them. These animals are wild and dangerous, and should be respected as such.


The San Isabel National Forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk. We were lucky enough to see a few elk while we were hiking through the forest. They were a beautiful sight!

Elk San Isabel National Forest

Elk are a common sight throughout the San Isabel National Forest, usually seen in small herds of two to ten individuals. The elk often can be spotted grazing in meadows and near water sources. 

They will also move up into the high country during the summer months while they seek out cooler temperatures and more sparse vegetation. During the winter months, they may move back down to lower elevations where there is more food.

Red fox

We were absolutely amazed by the wildlife we saw during our adventure to San Isabel National Forest. One of the most incredible sightings was a red fox! We spotted him running through the forest and he was absolutely beautiful. He seemed very playful and happy, and we felt so lucky to have seen him.

Red fox San Isabel National Forest

In San Isabel National Forest, we were lucky enough to spot a red fox! This beautiful animal is fairly common in North America, but it was still an exciting sight for us. The red fox is known for its reddish-brown fur, which helps it blend in with its surroundings. It was a thrill to see this magnificent creature up close!

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep are one of the most popular animals to see in San Isabel National Forest. These majestic creatures are known for their large horns and impressive size. Visitors often spot them grazing on the forest’s grassy slopes or climbing up rocky cliffs.

Bighorn sheep San Isabel National Forest

Seeing a bighorn sheep in the wild is truly a memorable experience. If you’re lucky enough to spot one during your visit to San Isabel National Forest, be sure to take plenty of photos and enjoy the moment!

Mountain goats

San Isabel National Forest is home to a variety of different wildlife, including mountain goats. These majestic creatures are often seen roaming the forest in search of food.

Mountain goats San Isabel National Forest

We were lucky enough to spot a few mountain goats during our recent visit to San Isabel National Forest. They were an amazing sight to see! We even got to watch as one of the goats climbed up a steep hillside in pursuit of a tasty treat.

If you’re lucky enough to spot a mountain goat in San Isabel National Forest, be sure to take the opportunity to watch and admire these incredible animals.

Wild turkey

Wild turkeys are one of the many amazing animals that you can see while adventuring in San Isabel National Forest. These large birds are native to North America and are known for their distinctive plumage and gobbling calls. 

Wild turkey San Isabel National Forest

While they can be found throughout the forest, they are most commonly seen in the meadows and along the edges of forests. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just spot one of these magnificent creatures!

So, if you’re looking for a chance to spot a wild turkey in San Isabel National Forest, you’ll definitely have a good chance of success!

Mexican spotted owls

The Mexican spotted owl is a medium-sized owl with large, dark eyes. The head is round and the bill is short. The body is brown with white spots. These owls are found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. 

Mexican spotted owls San Isabel National Forest

In the United States, they are found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Mexico, they are found in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

San Isabel National Forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Mexican spotted owl. These owls can be seen throughout the forest, often perching on branches or hunting for prey. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these owls during your visit to San Isabel National Forest, be sure to snap a photo!


Bobcats are medium-sized wildcats distinguished by their tufted ears, short tails, and spotted coats. Native to North America, their habitats span a variety of environments, from dense forests and mountainous terrains to semi-deserts.

In San Isabel National Forest, they are most commonly spotted in the transitional zones between meadows and woodlands.

Animals in San Isabel National Forest

Bobcats include their solitary nature, their ability to swim (though they generally avoid water), and a diverse diet ranging from rodents to deer.

Their adaptability and elusive behavior have enabled them to coexist in areas with human activity, making them a fascinating presence in our diverse ecosystems.

Mountain Bluebirds

Mountain Bluebirds are striking, medium-sized birds recognized by their vibrant blue feathers, which are more pronounced in males.

They are primarily found in the open country of the West, preferring meadows, tundra, and high-altitude grasslands. In the San Isabel National Forest, these bluebirds are often seen perching on low branches or fences, scanning the ground for insects.

Mountain Bluebirds Animals in San Isabel National Forest

When they spot prey, they swoop down in a swift, graceful manner to catch it. An interesting fact about Mountain Bluebirds is that they often use abandoned woodpecker holes or birdhouses for nesting.

Unlike other bluebirds, they can be found at elevations of up to 12,000 feet, making them a delightful sight in alpine regions.

Pine Martens

Pine Martens are slender, agile mustelids with glossy fur that ranges from yellowish to dark brown. They possess a distinctive creamy or yellow “bib” on their throats, setting them apart from other forest inhabitants.

Native to coniferous and mixed-wood forests, Pine Martens prefer areas with dense overhead canopy and are adept climbers, using trees to rest, hunt, and evade predators.

Animals in San Isabel National Forest

In San Isabel National Forest, they are commonly found in mature, continuous woodlands. Pine Martens are omnivores, feeding on small mammals, birds, insects, and even fruits and berries.

A remarkable fact about them is their ability to leap from tree to tree, demonstrating extraordinary agility in their natural habitat.

Golden Eagles

Golden Eagles are majestic birds of prey, known for their impressive wingspans and striking golden-brown plumage.

They are among the largest eagles globally, with keen eyesight that allows them to spot prey from great distances.

Primarily found in open or semi-open landscapes, these raptors prefer mountains, plateaus, and areas with sparse vegetation in San Isabel National Forest.

golden eagle Animals in San Isabel National Forest

They soar gracefully on updrafts, scanning the ground below for small mammals, including rabbits, ground squirrels, and marmots. Golden Eagles are monogamous and often mate for life.

One intriguing fact is their nesting behavior: they build massive nests, sometimes measuring up to 8 feet wide, on cliffs or in high tree branches, and return to these nests year after year, adding new materials each time.

Boreal Chorus Frogs

Boreal Chorus Frogs are small, adaptable amphibians with a remarkable vocal prowess. Typically ranging in color from greenish to brownish, they are characterized by three dark stripes running down their backs.

They can be found in a variety of habitats but have a particular affinity for wet meadows, grasslands, and temporary ponds.

In the San Isabel National Forest, you’re most likely to encounter them near shallow water sources, especially during their breeding season in spring.

Boreal Chorus Frogs Animals in San Isabel National Forest

These frogs emit a distinctive high-pitched call that sounds like a fingernail being dragged across the teeth of a comb.

Intriguingly, they can survive being frozen during winter, only to thaw and become active again with the onset of warmer temperatures.

Snowshoe Hares

Snowshoe Hares, aptly named for their large, furry hind feet that act like natural snowshoes, are a captivating species residing in the dense underbrush of forests and thickets.

These hares are well-adapted to the varied seasons of the San Isabel National Forest. Their fur undergoes a remarkable transformation, shifting from a reddish-brown in the warmer months to a pristine white during the winter, providing them with effective camouflage against predators in any season.

This cyclical color change is triggered by the length of daylight. Snowshoe Hares primarily feed on a diverse range of vegetation, including grasses, leaves, and twigs.

Snowshoe Hare

A unique behavior observed in them is their tendency to eat their own feces to extract maximum nutrients from their food.

Predators like lynxes, foxes, and owls keenly hunt them, making their population numbers crucial indicators of ecosystem health.

Abert’s Squirrels

Abert’s Squirrels, often recognized by their tufted ears and long, bushy tails, are an iconic species within the coniferous forests of the American Southwest.

In San Isabel National Forest, they are intricately linked with ponderosa pine trees, their primary habitat and food source.

The squirrels feed on the tree’s seeds, buds, and cones, and even strip its bark to access the nutritious cambium underneath.

Abert's Squirrel

In return, their foraging activities aid in the dispersal of ponderosa pine seeds, fostering forest regeneration. Unlike many other squirrel species, Abert’s Squirrels do not hoard food for winter.

Instead, they rely on the continuous availability of pine tree resources throughout the seasons. Their gray fur, with a white underbelly, provides them with effective camouflage in their predominantly tree-based habitat.

A fascinating aspect of their behavior is their vocal communication, consisting of a series of barks and chatters, especially when sensing danger or asserting territorial claims.


Porcupines are robust, slow-moving rodents, easily identifiable by their coat of sharp quills. These quills, which are modified hairs coated with thick layers of keratin, are a porcupine’s primary defense against predators.

When threatened, a porcupine raises and fans out its quills, presenting a daunting challenge to any would-be attacker.

Contrary to popular myth, porcupines cannot shoot their quills, but the barbed tips can embed in other animals, detaching from the porcupine with ease.

san isabel wildlife

In San Isabel National Forest, porcupines primarily feed on tree bark, leaves, and tender green plants. Their affinity for gnawing on wooden structures and trees can sometimes lead them into conflict with humans.

A curious aspect of porcupines is their taste for salt; they have been known to chew on wooden handles of tools or car wires due to the salt left behind by human hands or from road salt.

Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcons are renowned birds of prey, celebrated for their astonishing speed and aerial agility.

Often dubbed the “cheetahs of the sky,” these raptors are capable of reaching speeds over 240 mph during their hunting stoop (high-speed dive).

Their striking appearance, characterized by a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a distinct black “moustache” or “sideburn,” sets them apart in the avian world.

Peregrine Falcons Cluster Gallatin National Forest animals

Within the expanse of San Isabel National Forest, Peregrine Falcons typically nest on cliff faces and high ledges, granting them an ideal vantage point to spot and ambush their prey, which primarily consists of other birds.

Their incredible comeback story, from being on the brink of extinction due to pesticide poisoning in the mid-20th century to now being a widespread and familiar species, serves as a testament to successful conservation efforts and the resilience of nature.

10 Tips for Wildlife Sighting in San Isabel National Forest

  1. Prime Elk and Deer Spotting: Early morning or dusk at Clear Creek Reservoir is ideal for viewing elk and deer as they come to the water’s edge.
  2. Bird Watching Hub: The Bear Lake Campground area is renowned for diverse bird species. Bring your binoculars and a field guide for a fulfilling birdwatching experience.
  3. Bighorn Sheep Views: The rocky cliffs and canyons near Cottonwood Pass provide a favorable environment for Bighorn Sheep, especially during early morning hours.
  4. Mountain Goat Territory: The higher elevations near Mount Yale are great places to spot Mountain Goats. Ensure you have a good pair of binoculars or a camera with a strong zoom.
  5. Trail for Diversity: The Rainbow Trail, especially near the Silver Creek area, offers a mosaic of habitats, increasing your chances of spotting varied wildlife, from small mammals to birds of prey.
  6. Nighttime Wildlife: For those camping at Lake Isabel Campground, nocturnal animals like bobcats and foxes can sometimes be glimpsed during the quieter hours of the night.
  7. Wetland Wildlife: The marshy areas around San Isabel Lake are good spots for amphibians like Boreal Chorus Frogs and various waterfowl.
  8. Raptor Watching: Cliffs and open areas around Rye and Colorado City are good places to catch sight of soaring raptors, including Peregrine Falcons and Golden Eagles.
  9. Black Bear Precautions: While the entire forest has potential for bear sightings, always ensure you’re practicing bear-safe behaviors, especially if camping in popular spots like O’Haver Lake Campground. Use bear lockers, and never leave food unattended.
  10. Guided Wildlife Tours: For those unfamiliar with the area, consider booking a guided wildlife tour with local experts. They often know the hidden gems and can increase your chances of sightings.

Remember to always view wildlife from a safe distance, use binoculars or zoom lenses for closer looks, and never feed or approach wild animals. The key is patience; nature operates on its own timetable. Happy wildlife watching in San Isabel National Forest!


Our adventure to San Isabel National Forest was truly an unforgettable experience. We were able to witness some of the most amazing wildlife sightings, from elk and mule deer to bald eagles and even a black bear! 

It was incredible being able to observe these animals in their natural habitat and we’re so grateful that we had the opportunity to do it. If you ever find yourself near San Isabel National Forest, don’t miss out on this incredible chance for a wildlife adventure; you won’t regret it!

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