The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is northeast of downtown Denver. At 15,000 acres, it is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the United States. It includes prairie, wetland and woodland habitats, and is a home to 330 species of animals, including bison. The bison were the main attraction for my visit, and I was hoping to get a glimpse of them.
Sean and I were visiting Colorado this summer for a trail race and exploring other trails. Our flight left on a Monday, but not until 6:30pm. We had time for some sightseeing that day. After our final trail run and hotel checkout, we made our way towards Denver. With the Refuge being just minutes from downtown Denver, this was a perfect stop before our flight. We arrived at the Refuge around 2:00pm. The main visitor center is not open on Mondays, so we were not able to experience the indoor exhibits. The Wildlife drive, however, is open 7 days a week from sunrise to sunset. The Wildlife drive is a self-guided 9 mile tour through the bison pasture, grasslands, wetlands and woodlands. We picked up a map at the kiosk, and started out on our drive.
Searching for the Bison
We were keeping our eyes peeled looking for wildlife, especially bison. We did see a few prairie dogs pop out of their holes now and then (I just love those little guys). After spotting a deer resting under a tree, I looked in the distance and saw a single bison laying down. We were pretty excited, and tried to get some good photos, but he was pretty far away. We continued our drive, hoping to see a few more, but we were at least satisfied that we saw one. And then we hit the jackpot…
The Whole Herd!
As we drove along the road furthest from the visitor center, I thought I could see some movement on the horizon. We pulled the car over to stop and take a closer look. From what I could see, it looked like a herd of several large animals. Bison? It was hard to tell at first. But as the herd moved closer we could definitely see that it was a big herd of bison! We watched them, and realized that not only were they coming closer, they were going to cross the road right in front of our car!
We sat in the parked car and waited patiently for the herd to come our way. They finally came to the road crossing and sure enough, they were crossing right in front of our car. The bison were HUGE! The herd of bison meandered across the road. There were approximately 50 bison in the herd, including some young calves. It was amazing to watch the herd amble across the road and head off into the prairie.
After they had passed, we continued on the Wildlife Drive to the visitor center parking lot. Judging from the direction the herd of bison was heading, I thought I might see them from visitor center overlook. Sure enough, I was able to spot the whole herd off in the distance. They were all visiting a watering station and taking a drink. I watched them through the binoculars until it looked like they were getting ready to leave. The bison in the lead started heading off in a different direction from where they came. The direction he headed made it appear that they would be crossing over the Wildlife Drive again, but at a different section.
Sean and I jumped into the car again and set out to try and see the herd one more time. We drove out on the road, keeping our eyes peeled for the herd. There was no sign of them yet, so instead we started looking for signs of a path through the tall grasses. We finally noticed a trampled path of grass, and it was right by the lone bison that we had seen earlier. My guess was that this was their path back home from the watering station, so we parked our car and waited. It was harder to see if the bison were coming because a slight hill blocked our view. I was beginning to think we had missed them somehow, but we decided to wait a few more minutes.
A Second View
Our patience paid off. After a few moments we could see the herd cresting the hill! We sat in our car and watched the herd cross the road again. They crossed back into the prairie, even stopping to greet their lone friend that was waiting for them. Below is a video of the herd crossing the road:
This was the perfect wildlife diversion on our last day in Colorado. Catching a glimpse of the bison was exciting! And we couldn’t believe our luck that we were able to see them up close twice. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is a must see if you are visiting the Denver area. It is the great stop if you are waiting for a late flight, because it is only a few minutes from the airport. For more information on planning a visit to the Refuge, visit their site a here.