Traveling to Estes Park for the first time? Never seen an elk before, and hoping to catch one before you leave?
Well, you’re in luck! This helpful guide has everything that you need to know about where to see elk in Estes Park.
To put it simply, they’re everywhere – and if you’re traveling in mid September or early October, it’s actually hard not to spot one!
However, it hadn’t always been this way. In the 1800s, elk were an important food source for trappers and miners passing through Colorado and by 1880 the elk population had pretty much vanished.
At the turn of the century, this all began to change. Reintroduction efforts started in 1913 as 25 elk were purchased from Yellowstone National Park with 25 more in 1915.
Now, in 2023, hundreds span the entirety of Estes Valley entertaining tourists and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
This guide has everything you need to know about them too. Specifically, I will cover:
- Where to see elk in Estes Park
- Best time to see elk in Estes Park
- Top tips for seeing elk
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in!
Where To See Elk In Estes Park
The great thing about Estes Park is that there are just so many beautiful and memorable locations to catch a glimpse of elk!
It doesn’t even matter whether you’re an early bird or a night owl – every one of these spots offers a unique opportunity.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The best place to guarantee your chances at an elk encounter is Rocky Mountain National Park.
During the Summer and Fall months, up to 3,200 elk roam this beautiful landscape with around 600-800 remaining in Winter.
Head to Moraine Park at either dusk or dawn for some amazing scenery and to spot an elk against the picturesque backdrop of the rocky mountains.
Upper Beaver Meadows
Much like Moraine Park, Upper Beaver Meadows is a well known elk spotting location inside Rock Mountain National Park, perfect for dusk or dawn excursions.
Horseshoe Park is also great, especially in the early hours of the morning. In fact, you might even catch a glimpse of some moose or bighorn sheep in the area as this is a good spot for all kinds of wildlife watching.
Elk Meadow, wouldn’t you believe it, has an abundance of elk too!
You could even head there around twilight as this is a well known location to hear the majestic bugling of the bulls during mating season.
Not big on crowds? Not to worry, there are plenty of elk watching spots with minimal tourists.
My favorite is the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Head here to avoid crowds and to experience the elk in peace.
Bighorn Sheep Canyon
Hoping to combine your trip with some fun outdoor activities such as rafting or fishing?
Bighorn Sheep Canyon is perfect for just that! Located just outside the national park this area is famous for its magnificent scenery, rich history, and fun adventure activities.
Lily Lake Trail
If you enjoy hiking you’ve also got a lot of great options. For example, Lily Lake Trail is perfect for avid hikers looking for a peaceful expedition through the forest in the morning.
Cub Lake Trail
As with all these locations, the best time to spot an elk is either dawn or dusk. Cub Lake is no different. Walk this beautiful trail straight to Cub Lake for the best chance to spot an elk!
Fern Lake Trail
The Fern Lake Trail is also good but be prepared as it is a longer hike at 9 miles return. It is therefore best suited for more experienced hikers with adequate equipment and knowledge of the area.
Best Time To See Elk In Estes Park
Fortunately, you’re able to spot elk in the areas mentioned above pretty much all year round!
Fall (September to early October)
To increase your chances, it’s best to head there during mid September. Elk numbers actually grow by four times in the Fall, so you’re way more likely to spot one then.
Dawn and dusk
Dusk or dawn is also known to be when the elk are the most active.
Head to one of the many Rocky Mountain National Park locations at around 6:20 am or 7:30 pm to spot them feeding and going about their lives.
During the elk rut (mating season)
This Fall period is also when the elk rut or mating season occurs. This amazing spectacle occurs when male elk attempt to establish dominance through high-pitched calls and fighting.
If you can’t get away during this time, not to worry – you’ll have plenty of other opportunities to spot elk throughout the year!
Simply ask your local park rangers for some helpful information on where to go.
Tips For Seeing Elk
Now that you know the best spots and when to go, read on for some handy tips and tricks to increase your chances at catching an elk.
- Be quiet and avoid loud noises. Startled easily and sensitive to noise, stay quiet and leave any loud clothing or equipment at home so as not to disturb the elk
- Stay at a safe distance. Even though they’re undeniably beautiful, elk are still wild and unpredictable animals. 50 yards is a great rule of thumb if you want to guarantee not only your own but the animal’s safety too
- Use binoculars or a telephoto lens. You never know how far away the elk will be when you head out, so best to come prepared with something that will allow you to spot them from a safe distance
- Keep a low profile. To avoid disturbing or frightening the elk, crouch low or even wear earth coloured clothing to remain hidden. When attempting to spot an elk, you should always try to blend in to the surrounding environment
- Follow park regulations and guidelines. Maintaining this fantastic piece of nature is of the utmost priority. Make sure that you’re following the rules to protect both yourself and the environment from any damage!
- Check with park rangers for elk sightings. These EXPERTS will have all the latest and greatest bits of information to help you find an elk. Get in contact with a nearby park ranger with any questions that you may have
- Drive cautiously in elk habitat. The last thing you’d want is to endanger the elk population! Drive slowly and to the limit, keep an eye-out for any animals who may be crossing the road, and experience the scenery at a pleasant pace
- Respect the animals and their natural behavior. It is important to remember that this is their home – not yours. Follow the rules and let the animals go about their day like you were never there to maintain the magic for everyone around you
- Be patient and observant. Even though you might be looking for them, the elk are certainly not looking for you. Be prepared to stay in one location for an extended period of time if you want to catch one in the wild.