Fall is always a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The summer crowds have died down, the air is cool with a touch of winter’s bite and aspens are turning into a dazzling gold color. Another bonus: the elk rut season is in full swing.
At its peak from mid-September to mid-October, the elk rut is a time when male elk, or bulls, vie for the attention of their female counterparts, known as cows. Their goal is to prove their prowess and win the loyalty of a “harem” of females. Eight-to-nine-year-old bulls stand the greatest chance of mating.
The bulls become more aggressive during this season, charging at each other and locking antlers as they battle over dominant status and mating rights. Although competition is high, actual fighting is rare since it causes injury and depletes energy. Rather, they compete by showcasing their antlers, necks and bodies, as well as emitting a strong, musky odor.
Elk bugling is another significant characteristic of rut season. This loud call is the sound of a bull trying to attract and keep an eye on as many cows as possible. It starts out as a high-pitch cry and then, about 16 percent of the time, becomes a series of low, resonating grunts.
To celebrate the annual elk rut and learn about the “wapiti (the Native American name for elk), Estes Park hosts the 18th Annual Elk Fest in Bond Park.
The free festival features bugling contests, Cabela’s Archery Range, elk exhibits, the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program, elk seminars, elk-inspired arts and crafts, Native American music, dancing and storytelling, self-guided elk tour maps, a children’s’ area with elk-themed activities, and a craft beer garden.
Vendors will display artwork, handmade elk-ivory jewelry, and will offer distinctive elk cuisine. Mountain men from around the country will gather at the Mountain Man Rendezvous to sell their wares and demonstrate their skills.
Enjoy the Educational Seminar Tent to learn more about Elk and wildlife in Estes Park from a variety of professionals including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Mile High Note Game Calls. Representatives from the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program will display on a gloved hand some of their magnificent rescued birds. It’s amazing to see these majestic birds close up! Colorado Parks and Wildlife are on-site offering an Elk Camp where you can explore a variety of educational booths, and their staff will be helping in the field as attendees take the self-guided elk tour!
Live country, rock and bluegrass music will light up the park Saturday and Sunday with popular Colorado bands performing on stage.
Celebrate elk fest by participating in the 2nd annual Rut Run 5k on Saturday! Race day registration starts at 8:30am at Town Hall and the race begins at 9am. Participants will start and finish at Bond Park with an elevation gain of 246 feet and will receive a long sleeve shirt, a one-pint beer token and burrito.
On both Saturday and Sunday, stop into Town Hall (adjacent to Bond Park/Elk Fest) to watch a 20-minute video produced by the Estes Park News that shares the history of elk in Estes Park and how elk adapt to each season in our mountain valley. Learn safety tips for elk watching and see footage of Estes Park elk that has been included in National Geographic, the BBC and many others have used in their worldwide programming. Stick around after with staff from Colorado Parks & Wildlife for Q & A.
On Sunday from 1-3pm, amateurs compete to see who can sound most like an elk bugling at the Elk Bugling Contest.