Where to see elk

By Scott A. Rowan

It’s one of the first questions most vacationers will ask as soon as they get to elk country: where do we see the elk?

Bull elk bugling near Lumpy Ridge Trailhead in Estes Park, Colorado. Credit: author.

If you’re going camping or hiking this year and want to see elk, here’s a few tips gathered from the rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park and from my experience living in Estes Park, Colorado. I’ll provide a general tip to use anywhere and a specific one if you happen to be going to RMNP.

Feasting almost solely grass, elk can be predictable eaters.

“A golf course is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for an animal who only eats grass,” said Ranger Steve Atkins. “If I was in town for just one day and I wanted to be sure and see some elk, I’d find the nearest golf course.”

Wherever you go in the Rocky Mountains if you can find pastures you’re sure to find elk at some point. To increase your odds, elk tended to gather in large herds in the evenings in the grasslands. In the crepuscular light of dinner time sunset, elk tend to eat and rest, then repeat. The golf courses in Estes Park, Colorado, would become crowded with elk in the evenings to the point where it became predictable, especially during rut season.

If you go to Rocky Mountian National Park by way of Estes Park, be sure to take a small detour off the road to RMNP and go north on Highway 43 toward Glen Haven.

MacGregor Lane becomes Highway 43 leaving Estes Park and heading toward Glen Haven.

If you’re in town, MacGregor Lane becomes Highway 43. Take MacGregor Lane north toward the ranch. The ranch is private, so unless you have reservations it’s not advised to drive up their entrance. Instead, drive along Highway 43 toward the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead.

This region along Highway 43 is popular during the fall, when rut season is in full bloom. In September and October, a massive harem of 100-plus individuals often gathers and engulfs the area.

You don’t need to wait until rut season, however, as the stretch along Highway 43 toward Glen Haven is a mecca for elk. Even if you don’t see one, look closer. They’re sitting on the ground and since most people are scanning the area looking higher up, they don’t notice that at ground level the elk are just resting. There’s no predicting if you’ll see one elk or many resting on the ground, but their camouflage is so good that you can be standing on the edge of the road just feet from one and not notice him sitting or standing there until they move.


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