Best time to travel to Glacier National Park, MT

Bighorn Sheep in Glacier National Park, MT

Glacier's permanent residents are easy to spot on mountain slopes

Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
About 42,000 bighorn sheep live in the United States

Bighorn Sheep (ovis canadensis) are majestic animals that can often be spotted in Glacier National Park. Their large curved horns make them easy to identify during a hike or a drive. Males or rams are quite big, reaching 500 lb (226 kg) in weight. Their horns alone reach 45 inches (114 cm). Females are smaller, reaching only 201 lb (91 kg).

Bighorn sheep are spotted in Glacier National Park all year round, but the best time to observe and photograph them is in the fall. These animals live in large herds and are most active during their rut season, which lasts approximately from October to December.

Glacier's bighorn sheep are especially abundant east of the Continental Divide and in the Blackfeet Reservation in the southeastern part of the Glacier. You can also spot them along Going-to-the-Sun Road, Highline Trail, Hidden Lake Trail, and Many Glacier area, especially Grinnell Glacier or Ptarmigan Tunnel. They prefer alpine meadows and grassy mountain slopes to feed on. Bighorns are also great rock climbers and feel very confident on the steep mountain paths.

Bighorns have beige coats, distinct white rump patches, and small brown tails. You can usually tell the age of a Bighorn Sheep by the number of segments in its horns. If you see a bighorn sheep, do not approach them closer than 25 yards (23 meters). It's a wild animal and can be aggressive, especially during the breeding season.

Practical info

When is the best time to observe Bighorn Sheep in Glacier National Park?

The ideal timing to observe bighorn sheep is in the fall season or between October and December, which is also their rutting or mating season. Their male counterparts become more active and vocal during this time. Bighorn sheep can be viewed in the Glacier National Park throughout the year; however, fall is the best season for visitors to cherish and capture the breathtaking sight of them clashing their large horns to establish dominance. Show more

Where in the park are Bighorn Sheep most commonly found?

Bighorn sheep are often located on mountain slopes, particularly in the eastern part of Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Reservation in the southern part, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Highline Trail, Hidden Lake Trail and Many Glacier region. They are known for their incredible climbing abilities and prefer grassy mountain slopes, alpine meadows to feed on. Visitors can spot the magnificent creatures in Grinnell Glacier or Ptarmigan Tunnel as well. Show more

What is the average weight of male and female Bighorn Sheep?

Bighorn sheep usually have beige coats with a distinctive white rump patch and a small brown tail. Males or rams can weigh almost 500 lbs (226 kg) and have horns of up to 45 inches (114 cm). Females or ewes are significantly smaller, weighing around 201 lbs (91 kg). To determine the age of a bighorn sheep, people can count the number of segments in its horns. The number of segments and rings will give a good idea of the sheep's age, much like the rings of a tree trunk. Show more

How can you differentiate between the age of Bighorn Sheep?

A simple way to distinguish bighorn sheep's age is from the number of segments in their horns. Typically, younger rams have fewer horn segments than older rams. Segments of the horns are comprised of rings that are clearly visible across the horn's length and indicate the animal's age. The older the bighorn, the more horn segments and rings it has in its horns. Show more

What precautions should be taken when spotting Bighorn Sheep in Glacier National Park?

Visitors are advised not to get closer than 25 yards (23 meters) to the wild and potentially aggressive bighorn sheep. During the breeding season, male bighorn sheep tend to be more territorial and pose a greater risk, so visitors should take extra precautions. Noise disturbances should be avoided, particularly around young sheep, as this can disrupt the ewes' attention to their young. Visitors and the animals' safety must be kept in mind, so it's crucial to respect their territory to prevent any surprises or harm. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen