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Yellow-Bellied Marmot: Remarkable Burrower on the Alpine Slopes

Yellow-Bellied Marmot: Remarkable Burrower on the Alpine Slopes

I have watched the Yellow-Bellied Marmot species for the past nine years. I first saw one in 2011 when I hiked the Colorado Trail. Subsequently, I encountered marmots on the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail. I remember asking a store clerk in Breckenridge about the “spiky, cat sized, rodent looking creature.” He laughed and said, “You saw a marmot! Nice!”

Since then, I have found them consistently at higher altitudes, mostly on alpine slopes. I like watching the Yellow-Bellied Marmot waddle around and sniff the air, then scurry back into one of its burrows. The size of a fat house cat, the Yellow-Belied Marmot does indeed reside in the rodent order and the squirrel family. Thus, it is related to the Wyoming Ground Squirrel.

In my latest encounter, my partner and I spotted one on the way out to paddle board on Piney Lake in Colorado. In other words, we saw the Yellow-Bellied Marmot near a high alpine lake at around 9,400ft of elevation. This particular marmot, we saw near the outlet stream for the lake. As it scurried across the dirt road, it realized we were watching it. Then, it stood up and watched us. After that, it sniffed the air toward us, stayed very still, then ran off into the vegetation.

Let’s check out some more facts to help you identify it in the future!

Marmot standing on hind legs in dirt road.
Standing on Hind Legs





Yellow-Bellied Marmot Defining Characteristics:

  • 1.5-2.5 ft in length with tail
  • Weighs about 5-10 pounds
  • Mostly brown fur with red hints and a yellowish belly,
  • White between eyes and nose, though nose itself is black
  • Small, rounded ears and has short legs
  • Looks like how you would imagine a squirrel that was the size of a house cat
  • Makes a whistle sound
  • Herbivores eating mostly plants, grasses, and fruits
  • Hibernate in winter


  • Rocky slopes of mountains and passes with both rocks and vegetation
  • Live in burrows underneath rocky fields with multiple passages
  • Can also live near pastures or at the edges of woodlands


  • Southwest Canada down through the western US
  • Rocky mountains to the Pacific Coast

Yellow-Bellied Marmot & the Traveling Nature Journal

Yellow-Belied Marmot nature journal two page spread with text, photo, and sketch.
Yellow-Belied Marmot in the Traveling Nature Journal.

I began this spread with the text. Since I could describe many of their defining characteristics from years of seeing them, that felt the most comfortable. I did use the Guide to Colorado Mammals by Mary Taylor Young again to help with some of the more specific details. Because I already had it checked out, I had pre-written a few notes down.

Like all of my mammal spreads so far, I used a purple Sakura Micron Pen to write the categories. Personally, I like to use a different color for each category in this nature journal. Thus, as I flip through the pages, I can easily see purple for mammals, green for plants, blue for birds, and orange for insects.

Finally, I added a sketch of the Yellow-Bellied Marmot and a polaroid photo from my Instax Fujifilm Printer. As you can see, my sketching ability is fairly so-so. Due to my lack of sketch skills, I use a photo to make sure the color shifts appear correctly.

Pinterest Pin for the Yellow-Bellied Marmot