Well, I think it’s that time again. Time for a new National Park-related list. I previously made lists of my Top 10 Favorite National Parks and Top 10 Short and Long National Park hikes. I’ve also shared my Bucket List and a list of places I’ve visited that I think should be on everyone’s Bucket List. This time, I decided to go with a list of my Top 10 Wildlife Encounters. They all occurred in National Parks; unsurprisingly most of them were in Glacier and Yellowstone. Almost all of these were up close and personal interactions, while a couple could be better classified as “wildlife sightings” from afar. I decided I would simply use a photo of the park of the incident as my Featured Image, so that I don’t give away the type of wildlife. Hope you enjoy my list.
2. The ram hiking the Highline Trail
Location: The Highline Trail at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.
Animal: A big and beautiful ram.
Rarity (the first of a few totally subjective 1-10 scales I am using): 5 – I have seen a few rams in Glacier, so they probably aren’t too rare. That doesn’t stop me from being impressed every time I see one.
Wow Factor: 9 – This up close and personal encounter was a truly unique and memorable experience for me. It really felt like an interaction with the ram and not simply an observation.
Danger: 7 – I’m pretty sure rams are not typically dangerous, but males like to crash their horns into other rams, and occasion will charge humans. The reason I rated this higher is because it was very close to me and we met on the side of a mountain so it could have easily knocked me down the mountainside to my death.
Fear Factor: 5 – I probably should have been afraid, but I really wasn’t. The ram was suddenly very close to me, but I never felt like it might harm me.
Description: The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park is one of my all-time favorite hikes. It’s above treeline most of the way and showcases fantastic mountain meadows and stunning views of snowy peaks and verdant valleys. It’s also a great trail for spotting wildlife.
I was hiking to the Granite Park Chalet, which is 7.6 miles from the trailhead at Logan Pass. The plan was to meet my friend Joe there (his camera batteries died, so he went to buy new ones and started the hike after me). Then we were going to return the way we came.
I was past the steep ledge section and the garden wall, probably almost halfway to the chalet when I came across a magnificent animal. I followed the trail as it curved its way around the mountain and saw a bighorn sheep walking along the trail. This was a full-grown ram, which meant it was a male that likely weighed around 300 pounds. We were walking in the same direction; it was just a short distance in front of me. I guess wildlife prefer the trails, too.
I stopped on the trail to take a couple of photos of the ram and to increase the space between us. Then I slowly continued on the path as I admired the stout and muscular creature. It was a magnificent, graceful animal that looked completely content and comfortable in its environment. As it slowly sauntered down the trail it looked at me, but didn’t seem to mind my presence. I trailed 20 or 30 feet behind it on the narrow trail waiting to see what it would do next.
I felt safe due to the ram’s completely nonthreatening behavior. After a few minutes it walked about ten feet above the trail and into a small patch of pink flowers. I slowly and quietly walked below it, sticking to the pathway. Its eyes followed me the entire way.
Once I was a short distance beyond the ram I took my camera back out. I swear that just as I raised the camera to my eye the ram posed for me (better than my children would these days). With the beautiful flowers at its feet the bighorn sheep looked directly at me and tilted its head for a moment, making for a very nice picture.
After our brief photography session ended the ram walked farther up the mountainside toward a cluster of pine trees. I smiled and turned back to trail, then continued on to the backcountry chalet to wait for Joe.