The Colorado Elk Rut: When to Visit

Colorado Elk rut

The sights and sounds of autumn – changing leaves, cooling weather, pumpkins and Indian corn. And… the bugling of elk. Each year around the autumnal equinox, the Colorado elk rut bring crowds of elk (Cervus canadensis) from the surrounding Rockies down from their high altitude summer feeding grounds into the low elevation areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, including into the nearby resort town of Estes Park.

The elk gather here at this time for one reason – to get it on. Females form large herds, which include last year’s young, while the males strut around between and amidst herds, letting everyone in sight (and sound) know how bad ass they are. Aside from their macho strut and impressive racks of antlers, they do this by bugling. Bellowing day and night, they let local females know just how damn sexy they are, while at the same time giving the word for other males to back off. Typically, most of the other males have the exact same idea, so they don’t in fact back off. This leads to one of the most spectacular displays of the elk rut – fighting amongst the males. Threatening, bluffing, charging and finally bashing their antler-crowned heads together in terrific clashes, the male elk work it out the old fashioned way as to who’s the king of the herds. It’s “The Bachelorette” for giant deer, and it’s something to see if you haven’t had the opportunity to witness it yourself.

Here’s a short clip of elk bugling I captured in the park. The park and surrounds are highly accessible from the Denver area, making visits to this wilderness easy. Plan your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Park resort area in late September and early October.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado Elk Rut
Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: The Green Gatsby


Header photo (top of page): Mark Byzewski/Flickr/Creative Commons

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