Whether you’re hiking a challenging trail or taking a relaxing drive through the park, there’s no shortage of stunning landscapes to take in during your visit to Capitol Reef National Park.
But one of the most popular sights to watch for is the wildlife that calls the region home.
Capitol Reef and Southern Utah are home to a number of unique and diverse species of mammals. Keep reading to learn about 6 you might see during your next visit.
1. Black Bears
Black bears are the most commonly found bear species in the lower 48 states; in fact, they’re found in at least 40 states. While they are more common in some areas than others, they are universally shy and tend to avoid areas with high concentrations of people — unless, of course, they’re raiding unsecured trash cans in search of food.
While black bears are found in the region, they are a rare sight in Capitol Reef National Park. If you do see one, make sure to keep your distance.
Another mammal that calls the park home but is rarely seen by visitors is the elusive mountain lion. This is thanks in part to their small numbers in the wild, as well as their nocturnal habits.
2. Prairie Dogs
One popular mammal you might spot while visiting the park is the prairie dog. The Utah prairie dog features a light tan body with white bellies and tiny ears. They’re a fairly frequent sight at higher elevations, both in and around the national park.
If you’re eager to spot these funny creatures during your visit, look for their mounded burrows. Then, sit quietly and wait for them to appear. Prairie dogs, much like other wildlife in the park, tend to be skittish, so avoid making loud noises that might drive them back into their burrows.
Another small mammal that calls the region home is the porcupine. These prickly creatures are actually the second largest rodents in the state of Utah. They can reach a weight of between 10 and 28 pounds, with tails that reach up to 8 inches in length.
Despite their spiky appearance, porcupines largely keep to themselves, eating grass and other plants and moving slowly across the desert landscape. While cartoons might tell you otherwise, porcupines can’t throw their sharp quills. So as long as you keep a safe distance and avoid touching them, you won’t get pricked.
Mule deer are a common sight throughout much of Utah. But there’s another, similar mammal that’s less common to spot.
The pronghorn antelope is similar in size to deer but have distinctive striped markings on their fur that look much like their better-known African cousins. They’re incredibly fast, able to go from standing still to running upwards of 50 miles per hour in just seconds. In fact, the antelope is the fastest animal in the Western Hemisphere.
5. Bighorn Sheep
For many visitors and locals alike, the bighorn sheep has become a sort of symbol of Southern Utah. Easy to spot for their namesake horns, these large mammals have incredible balance, often scaling steep cliff faces and jumping from one small rock outcropping to the next.
Early inhabitants in the area depicted bighorn sheep in much of their artwork, and the sheep existed in large numbers throughout the canyons of Southern Utah. However, in the 1900s, the species was largely wiped out of the area by disease. In the 1990s, scientists re-introduced a herd of 40 bighorn sheep, taken from Canyonlands National Park. This re-introduction was successful, and today their numbers have grown and they are becoming a common sight once more.
6. Rock Squirrels
Perhaps the most common mammal you might spot in Capitol Reef is the rock squirrel. Native to many parts of the American Southwest, these squirrels are similar in appearance to other species, but with a thinner tail and fur that’s gray-ish brown. They also grow larger than some of their other cousin species, reaching a length of nearly a foot, not including their long tails, which can be nearly the length of their bodies.
As their name suggests, rock squirrels largely stick to canyons, mountains, and other rocky areas, largely avoiding the open desert. This means that they are a common sight in rocky areas of Capitol Reef.
Because rock squirrels forage for food and garbage left behind by park visitors, many have become accustomed to humans and may even approach you in search of food. However, it’s important to remember that feeding wildlife is prohibited, and rock squirrels, like other wildlife, may carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans on contact.
Spotting Wildlife in Capitol Reef National Park
These 6 mammals are just a few of the animals you might get lucky enough to spot during your next visit to Capitol Reef National Park.
Ready to spot some of these incredible species for yourself? Start planning your next visit to Capitol Reef — with a stay at beautiful and convenient Cougar Ridge — today!