Elk in Estes Park Photo Credit: ER Bauer (Flickr)

Elk in Estes Park tend to show little fear of humans and cars. Photo Credit: ER Bauer (Flickr)

Mark your calendars – one of the most stunning natural phenomena that occurs in Colorado is roughly one month away. Each fall, hundreds of elk descend on Estes Park – a mountain town outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Their arrival coincides with their rut season, a time of the year the species spends looking for a mate. As a result, the elk travel to lower elevation areas of Estes Valley, putting many of them smack dab in the middle of bustling streets as they linger in sidewalks, in parks, and on golf courses. Male elk violently bang their antlers together in a sometimes-bloody show of dominance and female elk gather in large groups. The elk can be heard sending out their ear-popping bugle calls, sometimes sounding more like a scream.

In Colorado, the peak of elk rut season typically lasts from mid-September to mid-October. During this time of the year, hearing and seeing elk becomes quite common. Believe it or not, it's estimated that there are close to 300,000 elk in Colorado and around 2,400 in Estes Valley.

If you plan on tracking down this spectacle, be respectful of these majestic animals by keeping your distance. It must be noted that elk tend to be more aggressive during rut season and their antlers and hooves have been known to gore people in the past. Even walking by an elk too close may be viewed by the animal as a threat, prompting defensive behavior.

When around elk in rut, use the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 'rule of thumb' guidance, which basically means staying far enough away that you're able to cover the entire animal with a thumb at the end of an outstretched arm. Stay alert and aware and watch out for aggressive behavior.

I have no doubt I'll be writing a story a month or so from now about a person that was put in danger or seriously maimed after trying to pet an elk. Don't be that person.

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Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. He's on a mission to summit all 58 of Colorado's fourteeners and has already climbed more than half.


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