25 Grand Canyon National Park Animals: A Family Guide

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When we think of Grand Canyon National Park, we typically think of the views. But if you’re planning a family trip to the park, your family is probably hoping to see some wildlife, too.

Have no fear because Grand Canyon National Park is just bursting with animals to spot. Get ready for a nature adventure that both you and your kids will remember!

In this guide, we’re going to explore the best places to see the most notable park residents so that you can make the most out of your Grand Canyon visit adventure.

family selfie at the Grand CanyonPin
a family trip to Grand Canyon National Park will be one your family won’t soon forget

Large Mammals of the Grand Canyon

Mountain Lions

Where to Spot Them: In the forests of the North and South Rim.

Best Time to See Them: Dawn and dusk, but sighting are rare because they blend into the canyon walls so well.

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are powerful predators capable of leaping great distances and climbing trees.

Despite their large size, they are incredibly elusive and solitary.

mountain lion crossing road sign in Grand Canyon National ParkPin
Chances are LARGE that this is as close as you will get to a mountain lion spotting (thankfully) in Grand Canyon National Park, but these large cats do live within the park, no doubt!

Their keen senses make them effective hunters, preying on mule deer and other ungulates.

Families may be lucky enough to spot the tracks or scat of mountain lions along trails, offering clues to their presence.

wildlife in Badlands National Park: mountain lionPin
This large cat was photographed in Badlands National Park, but mountain lions definitely are present at the Grand Canyon

Mule Deer

Where to Spot Them: All throughout the park, from the forests of the Rims to desert scrub on the Tonto Plateau, and even along the Colorado River.

Best Time to See Them: Early morning and late afternoon most of the year. In the summer they are only active at night or in the early morning.

The smaller cousins of elk, mule deer are another favorite among visitors.

Recognizable by their large, swiveling ears, these small, hoofed animals graze on grasses, shrubs, and forbs.

After the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve on the North Rim in 1906, predator populations were heavily hunted. This led to an explosion in the deer population, resulting in attempts to manage the herds.

Eventually, with the increase in predator populations, the herds on both rims became healthy again. Today, visitors can spot mule deer year-round, with the best viewing times at dawn and dusk.

Due to the small size of their young, mule deer stay alert for approaching predators, including coyotes, bobcats, or mountain lions.

During the breeding season in the fall, you may witness the bucks engaging in impressive sparring matches to establish dominance.

Grand Canyon National Park animals: mule deer grazing in the Grand CanyonPin

Black Bears

Where to Spot Them: Forested areas of the North Rim and Kaibab Plateau.

Best Time to See Them: Sightings are rare, but your best chance is Spring and early summer.

Black bears are opportunistic omnivores, consuming a variety of foods, including berries, nuts, insects, and occasionally small mammals.

Unlike their aggressive reputation, black bears are generally shy and tend to avoid human contact.

That said, families should exercise caution if they encounter a black bear and maintain a safe distance.

black bear in a meadowPin

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Where to Spot Them: While their population is declining due to environmental challenges, visitors often spot them on steep terrain and cliffs throughout the park.

Best Time to See Them: Early morning and evening throughout the year.

Bighorn sheep, with their massive, curling horns, are some of Grand Canyon’s most impressive athletes.

They can balance and carry up to 30 lbs on top of their heads as they gracefully navigate vertical cliffs and knife-thin ledges.

Adapted to harsh desert environments, they avoid predators by walking onto rocky areas that other animals wouldn’t dare climb.

They navigate the steep and rocky terrain of the canyon with ease, utilizing their specialized hooves for traction.

Look for these majestic animals on ledges and cliffs, showcasing their remarkable agility.

Grand Canyon National Park animals: desert bighorn sheep in the parkPin

Bison

Where to Spot Them: Exclusively on the North Rim.

Best Time to See Them: Throughout the year.

Bison, also known as buffalo, were nearly extinct in the 1980s, with only 22 left in the wild.

Through successful captive breeding programs, their population has rebounded, and today, around 75 bison call the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau home.

These massive herbivores graze in the forests and meadows on the North Rim, providing a captivating spectacle for families.

herd of bison photographed at the Kaibab Plateau area at the North Rim of Grand Canyon NPPin
herd of bison photographed at the Kaibab Plateau at the North Rim of Grand Canyon NP

Rocky Mountain Elk

Where to Spot Them: Forested areas, especially along the South Rim

Best Time to See Them: Throughout the year.

Introduced to the Grand Canyon region, Rocky Mountain elk have become a favorite among visitors.

Males can weigh up to 700 lbs, and their fall rutting displays are a sight to behold.

Elk are not adapted to desert living, relying heavily on human water sources to survive at the Grand Canyon. It’s not unusual to see elk drinking from the park’s water bottle filling stations.

While they are abundant, it’s crucial to maintain a safe distance. Rutting males and females with babies can be extremely aggressive, and approaching them for photos can pose serious risks.

large male bull Rocky Mountain elk in a meadowPin
large male bull elk

Other Notable Large Mammal Species

  • Pronghorn Antelope
  • Coyotes

Small Mammals of the Grand Canyon

Kaibab and Abert’s Squirrels

Where to Spot Them: Kaibab squirrel on the North Rim; Abert’s squirrel on the South Rim and Western forests.

Best Time to See Them: Year-round.

These adorable species are closely related but live on opposite sides of the canyon.

While the tall tale suggests they were separated by the Colorado River, they were actually separated more recently by receding ponderosa pine forests after the last ice age.

Kaibab squirrels on the North Rim have dark brown bodies, almost black, to absorb heat from the sun, and bright white tails to blend in with snow when threatened by predators.

Kaibab Squirrel at the North Rim of the Grand CanyonPin
Kaibab Squirrel at the North Rim of Grand Canyon NP

Abert squirrels, also known as tassel-eared squirrels, can be recognized by their tufted ears, gray color, and while bellies.

Abert Squirrel, Grand CanyonPin
Abert Squirrel

Gray Fox

Where to Spot Them: Forested areas on both rims.

Best Time to See Them: Evening and early morning.

Gray foxes are clever and can be found in different homes within the park. They are good climbers, using their skills to escape from danger or find food.

Families might come across them during quiet hikes, especially in the cooler parts of the day.

Keep your eyes open for these resourceful foxes while exploring the forested areas of the Grand Canyon.

gray fox lying in the snowPin

Bobcats

Where to Spot Them: Forested areas.

Best Time to See Them: Throughout the year.

Bobcats are skilled hunters and are commonly found in the wooded areas of the Grand Canyon.

With their distinctive tufted ears and short tails, they are adaptable and can thrive in various habitats.

Families might catch a glimpse of these elusive felines, especially if they keep a keen eye on the forested landscapes during their visit.

bobcat lying on a rockPin

Other Notable Small Species of Mammals

  • Javelina
  • Many species of bats
  • Rock squirrels

Bird Species of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon’s diverse habitats host an incredible variety of species of birds, making it a Globally Important Bird Area. In addition to resident species, migrating birds make pit stops during the spring and fall, adding to the avian spectacle.

Peregrine Falcons

Where to Spot Them: Just look up throughout the park, especially near Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. Be sure to look for their nests in the canyon walls.

Best Time to See Them: Spring and early summer.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest animal on Earth!

Historically endangered, conservation efforts have successfully led to their recovery.

Families may witness their breathtaking aerial displays as they hunt for prey, including other birds in mid-flight.

peregrine falcon in flightPin

Bald Eagles

Where to Spot Them: Colorado River corridor.

Best Time to See Them: Winter months.

Grand Canyon is home to a population of bald eagles, and their distinctive white heads and tails make them a majestic sight.

While the bald eagle primarily feeds on fish, they are opportunistic and may scavenge on carrion (dead animals).

Families should keep an eye out for these iconic birds soaring over the river.

bald eagle in a tree in Haines, AlaskaPin
bald eagle we spotted in Haines, Alaska

Turkey Vultures

Where to Spot Them: Thermal updrafts along the rim and inner canyon.

Best Time to See Them: Throughout the year.

Turkey vultures are nature’s clean-up crew, playing a vital role in the ecosystem by scavenging on carrion.

Their keen sense of smell helps them locate food from great distances.

Despite its somewhat ominous appearance, the turkey vulture poses no threat to humans.

turkey vulture sitting on a ledge at the Grand CanyonPin
turkey vulture sunning its wings at the Grand Canyon

California Condor

Where to Spot Them: Lookout Studio or Hopi Point on the South Rim, Plateau Point off the Bright Angel Trail in the inner canyon, or perching on the Navajo Bridge on Highway 89A on the East Rim.

Best Time to See Them: Most commonly seen in the summer.

In the 1980s, the California condor faced extinction, with only 22 individuals remaining. Intensive captive breeding programs saved the species, and by 1996, six young captive-bred condors were released near Grand Canyon.

California Condor in flight over the Grand CanyonPin

Today, around 75 of the critically endangered California condor call the Grand Canyon home.

Recognizable by their 9.5-foot wingspan, condors gracefully soar on the warm air rising from the canyon, making afternoons the best time to spot them.

Pairs of condors nest at the canyon annually, and sometimes their nests are visible to the public. Inquire at a park Visitor Center for information about current condor nests or sightings.

Having seen one of these in the wild myself, I can assure you this is an animal you won’t easily forget!

two California condors perched on a high cliff ledge at the Grand CanyonPin

Other Notable Bird Species

  • Golden eagle
  • Red-tailed hawk

Reptile Species of the Grand Canyon

Gila Monster

Where to Spot Them: Desert areas of the far western edge of the park.

Best Time to See Them: Throughout the day in cooler weather and dusk and dawn in the summer.

The Gila monster, with its vibrant orange and black patterns, is one of the only poisonous lizards in the United States.

While rare, families should be on the lookout for these fascinating creatures, appreciating them from a safe distance.

gila monster walking in Grand Canyon National ParkPin

Rattlesnakes

Where to Spot Them: In rocky areas throughout the park.

Best Time to See Them: Not sure you WANT to see one, but they are more likely to be spotted in summer months. In the winter, they brumate (similar to hibernate) so there will be much less chance of an encounter.

The Grand Canyon is home to several species of rattlesnakes, from the common Western Diamondback Rattlesnake to the rare Grand Canyon Pink Pink Rattlesnake (which is found nowhere else in the world).

While they may seem intimidating, rattlesnakes prefer to warn rather than strike.

Families should exercise caution in rocky areas, and if you encounter one, give them space.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake coiledPin
This Western Diamondback is one of 6 species of rattlesnakes at Grand Canyon National Park

Mojave Desert Tortoise

Where to Spot Them: Rare.

Best Time to See Them: Anytime.

The Mojave desert tortoise, a unique and rare species, calls the Grand Canyon home.

Families exploring the park might come across these slow-moving creatures, known for their resilience in the desert environment.

Admire them from a distance, recognizing the importance of protecting their habitat for the well-being of this remarkable tortoise species.

highly endangered Mojave desert tortoisePin
This critically endangered animal is considered a keystones species…many other animals in its ecosystem rely on the holes it digs for habitat

Other Notable Reptiles

  • Desert gopher tortoise
  • Chuckwalla lizard

Grand Canyon National Park Animals Safety Tips and Conservation Awareness

While exploring the Grand Canyon’s rich wildlife, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and conservation. Here are additional tips to enhance your family’s wildlife adventure:

  1. Be Respectful: Keep a safe distance from all wild animals, especially during sensitive times like breeding or when young are present.
  2. Stay Informed: Check with park rangers for updates on wildlife activity and safety alerts.
  3. Observe Quietly: Animals may be more active during quiet hours. Early morning and late afternoon hikes offer better chances for wildlife sightings.
  4. No Feeding: Never feed wildlife. Human food can be harmful, and feeding disrupts natural behaviors.
  5. Use Binoculars: Enhance your wildlife viewing experience without disturbing animals.
  6. Follow Regulations: Adhere to park regulations, including trail closures and restricted areas. These restrictions are put in place by the national park service to keep both the animals and the visitors safe.
  7. Contribute to Conservation: Participate in ranger-led programs or contribute to wildlife conservation initiatives.

Heading to the Grand Canyon with your family is like stepping into another world. You might see Rocky Mountain elk or huge California condors, and each animal helps keep everything in balance.

Whether you love the sound of coyotes or watching bison on the North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park is a special place for families to explore and enjoy the wonders of the wild.

Pin this Grand Canyon National Park animals article for later! And if you found this information helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

Grand Canyon National Park Animals: Use this Wildlife Guide as Your Family Looks for Wildlife in Grand Canyon NP, Arizona! #usnationalparks #familytravel #wildlife #grandcanyonPin
happy trails, heatherPin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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