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The Elk in Estes Park
Seeing the incredible amount of elk in Estes Park on our recent visit was one of the greatest wildlife experiences ever.
Seeing the incredible amount of elk in Estes Park on our recent visit was one of the greatest wildlife experiences ever. Especially if you're from a state like Oklahoma where large game like this is extremely uncommon.
We arrived in the middle of September when the annual rut begins to really kick off. Elk sightings are typical in Rocky Mountain National Park during this time as they migrate from higher altitudes for the mating season. But you don't even have to drive into the park to see them!
Elk Visiting Estes Park
Our first sightings of these beautiful creatures were right in the center of town. Half a dozen cows (females) were nonchalantly grazing the grass and resting in Bond Park next to the police station. While you could easily walk up to them, it's certainly not recommended as they can become aggressively dangerous. Besides, the police officers are usually around and will kindly ask you to move 75 feet back for your own safety.
It doesn't stop there though! They can be found anywhere and everywhere in town.
As we went on our daily river walks to visit the stores or Kind Coffee, we'd find plenty of bulls and cows hanging out by the visitor center or stores. Sometimes we'd even have to wait 30-45 minutes to cross a path because those elk just don't give a damn about you and your caffeine fix. LOL!
The Estes Park Golf Course is a regular congregation place for these large animals. The males seem to love the putting greens and would tear them up to bed down for their naps. The females would often be on the fairways but not too far from the bulls. There are also areas along the park pathway where they bed down with the calves -- which have PLENTY of warning signs for visitors to be careful.
Yet at different times we'd see herds meandering along the highway by the water park or eating in the locals' back yards. They even come up to the parking lot at The Historic Crags Lodge where we stayed.
In our two years of traveling full-time, we've never encountered something so mesmerizing as this. It's just something you have to see!
What's up with the bugling?
For several weeks we would hear the bulls (males) bugling day and night. This somewhat eerie sound is used to attract cows while warning other bulls to stay away from their harem.
Research led by Dr. Jennifer Clarke at the University of Northern Colorado suggests that different types of bugling sounds mean different things. One sound communicates that the bull is in the area with his harem; another warns the cows that they’re straying too far from their bull; and others tell potentially competitive bulls that they’re too close to the first bull’s harem and in for trouble if they come closer. - Outside Magazine, My Colorado Parks.
Are elk really dangerous to approach?
Most of the time these creatures seem to be chill and calm as people approach them. And much to Donetta's displeasure, I would always try to edge closer for a better photo and to give them a hug. Just kidding! But YES ... they are wild and they can be very dangerous.
I personally never saw any bulls charge people but watched several videos at the time we were in Estes Park where people and cars were attacked. The males, like most of us dumb guys, get highly aggressive when our testosterone is flying high. They can be unpredictable in behavior, can run up to 40 mph hour, and jump 8 feet vertically. At 700 lbs they will kick your ass.
It is wise to give them plenty of space because you don't want to be on the news because your selfie went bad.
Other cool things to know.
Whether we observed the herds at Moraine Park, Upper Beavers Meadow, or along the golf course, it was interesting to learn about elk facts from others or see how they behaved, including:
High-pitched squeals by calves: A newborn communicates to its mother this way, who recognizes her calf by its voice.
Low-grunting by the males: They use this to signify danger or when dumb selfie takers are getting too close.
Bulls chasing cows in an aggressive manner: If a harem cow wanders from the herd, the bull will stretch his neck out low, tip up his nose, tilt his antlers back and circle her.
We also learned that the cows and calves live in loose herds while the bulls are bachelors and live alone. They only come together for the rut and then go their own way when it's done. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
Experience it yourself.
If seeing the elk in Estes Park or RMNP is something that interests you, then you need to visit in September for the best experience. You can still watch them before or after, but that was the time when we got to see plenty of action.
Except for October 29, 2022 ... two days before we left the area to return back to Oklahoma for the holidays. That day was very special and these pictures and video are the best way to capture the scene.