This time of year all eyes and ears are on the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s rut season for the park’s elk herd and thousands of people flock to the park to see these magnificent animals. There’s even a festival!
Held annually in October in the gateway town of Estes Park, “Elk Fest” celebrates the mating season of one of Rocky’s most famous residents. Under the backdrop of the red, yellow and gold fall colors, the rut takes center stage.
While there is a chance to see elk throughout Rocky, there are a few spots during the fall where the elk (and the best wildlife photographers) congregate. Today Park Chasers is sharing our 3 best places to see elk in Rocky Mountain National Park so that you can see this amazing mating ritual up close and personal.
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The 3 Best Places to See Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Located just a few miles inside the eastern gates and park headquarters, the Moraine Park area is one of the top places to watch elk in late September and October. Visitors can travel west from the gateway town of Estes Park on Highway 36 and turn onto Moraine Park Road. As you near the Moraine Park area, the road winds through large open meadows where the elk congregate. The elk spend the summer months in the mountains surrounding Moraine Park and then travel down to these meadows for rut.
The pullouts in the area are heavily trafficked, so it’s best to arrive early in the morning or just before dark. For an even closer look, plan to stay in the Moraine Park Campground. The elk frequently travel through the campsites on their way to the meadow areas.
The Kawuneeche Valley is another key area to hear bugling elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Located on the southwest side of the park, the roads and trails near the Kawuneeche Visitors Center represent prime elk habitat. The marshy river valley blazes in fall colors at the same time the elk arrive each year.
Keep an eye out for other wildlife in the Kawuneeche Valley during your visit. The area is also home to many of the coyote and moose that live in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Meadows
Two of the lesser known spots to see elk in Rocky Mountain are around the Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Meadows areas. Located off Trail Ridge Road, these areas can be a little less populated from the Estes Park visitors. Plan to find a pull out near one of the open meadows and listen for the signature bugle.
Reminders about Elk Viewing
If you plan to view elk anywhere in Rocky Mountain, it’s important to remember a few key items from the National Park Service:
“To minimize disturbance to the animals and to ensure a pleasant experience for visitors, please observe these viewing guidelines.
- Turn off car lights and engine immediately. Shut car doors quietly and keep conversations to a minimum.
- Observe and photograph from a distance that is comfortable to the elk. If the elk move away or if their attention is diverted, you are too close.
- Stay by the roadside while viewing elk in park meadows. Travel is restricted to roadways and designated trails. Be aware of posted area closures.
- It is illegal to use artificial lights or calls to view or attract wildlife.”
(text provided by: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/elk.htm)