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Ecology, Flora & Fauna

Ecological Overview

Ecologists breakdown ecosystems into "life zones" to describe areas with similar plant and animal communities that vary by elevation and climate. 


The Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas span the elevation range from 8,400 to over 13,500 feet, which includes Montane, Sub-Alpine, and Alpine life zones, as well as the Riparian life zone which occurs along stream, rivers, ponds, wetlands and lakes. 

The Montane Life Zone (8,000 - 10,000 ft. elevation) has the richest diversity of plant and animal life. This zone is the starting point for most trails in the IP/JP wilderness areas and is dominated by aspen and evergreen forests, including Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines, Douglas fir and some Engelmann spruce.


Along riparian areas, water-loving trees are found including willows, mountain alder, water birch. 

The Subalpine Life Zone (10,000 - 11,500 ft.) sits just below the tree-line and includes forests dominated by Subalpine Fir, Englemann Spruce and Limber Pine. These species grow tall and straight at lower elevations but can become shorter and grow into unusual shapes in the harsh conditions closer to treeline - such as stunted and gnarled stands of trees are known as krummholz. 

The Alpine Life Zone (11,500 ft. and above) is the "land above the trees" characterized by alpine tundra plant life such as grasses and sedges, lichens and dwarf-sized flowering plants. To see a list of species in the alpine life zone that have been catalogued at the Mountain Research Station at Niwot Ridge, click here

Wildlife Interactions

The Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas are home to some amazing wildlife, including moose, black bears and mountain lions. Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous when they feel cornered or threatened, so keep a respectful distance and keep your dog on a leash (its the law anyways)! Predators like bears, lions and coyotes can be dangerous when they become acclimated to human food or garbage, or when unattended small children or pets present easy prey. 

In the last few years, the Indian Peaks Wilderness has been experiencing a significant increase in bear encounters - particularly at the Diamond Lake, Jasper, and Woodland Lake backcountry zones. The bears are associating the camp areas with food and are not fearful of humans. If you are camping in these areas there is a high likelihood you will encounter a bear. If you are uncomfortable, then don't camp in these areas! If you decide to camp, you should bring a bear proof canister for food storage or properly hang your food. 

Moose were introduced into the state in the 1970s and are now frequently seen in the IP/JP wilderness areas and moose encounters have increased statewide. They may look like gentle giants, but they are actually some of the most dangerous creatures you can encounter in the wild. Moose cows with their calves can become very aggressive when they feel threatened and have been known to chase and maul people and dogs (whom they view as wolves, their natural predators). Keep a safe distance and never get between a moose cow and her young. 

Since 2013, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is aware of at least 15 moose conflicts resulting in minor to serious human injuries.​ In all but two occurrences, dogs elicited the initial response from the moose. Hikers have been seriously injured after their off-leash dog ran back to them after being chased by an aggressive moose. Remember, dogs must be kept on a leash at all times which can help prevent your dog from being attacked or chased by other animals. See Dogs in the Wilderness for more tips on how to keep your pet safe in the wild. 

Visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife - Living with Wildlife page for more videos and tips on avoiding wildlife conflicts. Also check out the following brochures:​

Flora & Fauna


The IP/JP wilderness areas are home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna (plants and animals) including: over 900 species of plants, 280 species of birds and 60 species of mammals, many inhabiting specific elevational life zones. To learn more about the animals & plants found in the area, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park Nature page. Check out our Recommended Reading page for recommended field guides and apps. 



The IP/JP wilderness areas are home to a rich biodiversity of animal life, including many species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and all kinds of butterflies and other insects. The wilderness provides important habitat for species found only at high elevations, as well as corridors for mammals traversing the area and migrating birds and pollinators. 

Below are some of the iconic species found in the area:


Many visitors come to the IP/JP wilderness in the summer months to see alpine meadows teeming with colorful wildflowers. The wildflower season begins as early as April and peaks June - August, with flowers blooming later in the season at higher elevations. With hundreds of species, we've chosen to note just a few of our favorites below:​

Wildlife Interactions Link
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