Where and When to See Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, Colorado

Updated on June 8, 2020
Chad Claeyssen profile image

Chad is an avid traveler who loves to share his tips and experiences to help others get the most out of their travels.

A Little History About Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Shortly before 1900, the answer to where and when to see elk in Rocky Mountain National Park was that they weren't many places and you'd almost never see them. The once great elk herd that inhabited the area had almost been eradicated due to over-hunting. In 1913 and 1914, 49 elk from Yellowstone were moved to Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to the reintroduction of elk as well as the elimination of their natural predators (grizzlies and wolves), there's now an elk population of over 3,000 in the national park and surrounding area.

Elk near Estes Park, Colorado
Elk near Estes Park, Colorado

Where and When to See Elk in RMNP and Estes Park

Elk, also called Wapiti by Native Americans, are commonly seen throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and even in the town of Estes Park. The best place to see elk in the area varies slightly depending on what time of year you visit, but every season affords ample viewing opportunities.


Elk can be found in abundance at lower elevations and in the town of Estes Park during the Spring. Snow still makes it hard for them to forage for food higher in the mountains. Inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Moraine Park and the area just west of the Beaver Meadows Visitors' Center are great places to look for elk. In the springtime you'll usually see elk congregating with animals of the same gender, as they do most of the year.

Spring is also the time of year when elk lose their antlers. Around mid-March elk start to drop their antlers and they start to grow back almost immediately. When antlers begin to grow back they are covered in velvet and can grow up to an inch each day. Antler collecting is prohibited because they provide a key source of minerals to small mammals in the park.

An elk with new antlers in velvet near Estes Park, Colorado
An elk with new antlers in velvet near Estes Park, Colorado

Female elk, called cows, deliver their young in late spring. Calves have white spots and stay with their mother for nearly a year.


Elk move to higher elevations and even above the tree line in summer. Dawn and dusk are favorite feeding times. Calves begin to lose their spots in late summer.

An elk above the tree line during the Summer. This photo was taken through a car window from the roadside.
An elk above the tree line during the Summer. This photo was taken through a car window from the roadside.


Fall is a popular elk viewing season. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park can become crowded. The elk return to lower elevations for mating, or rut, season in September. Bugles of bull elk can be heard on fall nights throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and around the town of Estes Park. A bugle is a series of grunts, groans, and squeals made by a male elk to attract a female mate. Bulls can be heard bugling and seen strutting around the area from mid-September to as late as November. Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and Upper Beaver Meadows are prime viewing areas near Estes Park. Harbison Meadow and the Kawuneeche Valley (also a good spot to see a moose) are good spots on the west side of the park to see elk.

Elk locking antlers in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk locking antlers in Rocky Mountain National Park | Source


Elk can be seen grazing around Estes Park, near homes and hotels in Winter. Elk can also be found at lower elevations in the park meadows. When the snow is too deep for elk to get food from the ground, sometimes they turn to eating the bark of aspen trees. Black scars on the base of aspens, up to four feet high, provide evidence of this. Fences built to keep elk and moose from destroying aspen and other growth can be seen around the park. These "exclosures" keep out elk and moose, but visitors can access the areas through gates. Small animals can pass under a 16 inch space at the bottom of the fences.

Elk in the snow at Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk in the snow at Rocky Mountain National Park

Make sure to give elk and all wild animals plenty of space when viewing them. You don't want to end up on a vacations gone bad video. As a general rule, if you alter the movement or behavior of an animal, you're too close. More information on elk and elk viewing, as well as general park information can be found on the National Park Service website for Rocky Mountain National Park.

Have you ever seen an elk in the wild? Have you heard a bull bugle or seen two of them lock antlers?

Estes Park, Colorado:
Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

get directions


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 months ago from UK

      This is a very well-illustrated and informative article.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)