Where else but Colorado do people gather and tailgate to watch the mating rituals of elk?

Fall in Colorado means many things; the robust colors send leaf-peepers up to the hills in search of the perfect picture, fall festivals seem to be every weekend, and for the elk up in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, love is in the air. Elk rutting season in Colorado has officially started! It usually peaks from mid-September to the end of October, and the elk are eager and ready to mingle. 

Elk Rutting Season 101

During the elk rutting season, male elks, (referred to as bulls) compete for the attention of the female elk (referred to as cows). The behavior and antics of the bull elk can get quite obnoxious, and they really work hard to make themselves the star of the show.

The male elk are all about strutting their stuff this time of year and they often become more aggressive, charging at and sparing with each other as they work to establish their place as the dominant male and win the hearts of the "harem". The male elk strut their stuff, locking antlers and arching their necks in a showcase of their bodies for the ladies. They also emit pheromones intended to entice the female elk to engage with them.

Along with the physical display, the bugling of the bull elk gets quite impressive during the rutting season. Elk bugling is the unusual sound that male elks make when they are looking for a mate, and it starts out as low grunts but quickly becomes a series of high pitched, very unique sounds.

Where to Visit During Elk Rutting Season

Visitors can watch the elk prance around, listen to the bugling, and if they are lucky, watch the male elk herd the females. The behavior is literally the stuff of nature documentaries. And believe it or not, people will flock to the hills of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park just to watch the elk mating rituals, and because we here in Colorado love a good tailgate, it has become a tourist attraction. The elk usually gather in open meadow areas and can be easily viewed if they're left alone.

In the Grand County area, the best place to visit during elk rutting season is the Kawuneeche Valley. Other prime areas include Moraine Park and Horshoe Park, both within Rocky Mountain National Park.

Check out this video from Colorado Parks and Wildlife from last year's rutting season:

Elk Fest in Estes Park

Estes Park gets very invested into the elk rutting season, marking the occasion every year with the annual Elk Fest. A free festival, there are elk exhibits, elk seminars, elk arts and crafts, Native American music, dancing, and storytelling, and of course, a craft beer garden. Held from September 28-29, 2019, in Bond Park, Elk Fest kicks off with a Rut Run 5K and there will be vendors with artwork, including elk ivory jewelry, a Mountain Man Rendezvous, as well as all sorts of educational and elk-themed activities.

Elk rutting season is just another unique mountain thing to do here the great state of Colorado, and we are so ready for it. Whether you go every year or just once in a lifetime, watching the antics and shenanigans of the bull elk as they compete and vie for the attention of all the ladies is a thing you won’t likely ever forget.

*If you do head up to spectate the elk, please remember to keep a safe distance, leave the animals alone, and do not interfere with the natural course of things for the elk.*

Where is your favorite spot in Colorado to catch the elk rutting behavior? Share with us your tips, stories, and photos in the comments!