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Elk Calving Season!

Elk calving season
A cow and her calf minutes after giving birth near Castle Mountain Lodge.

It’s a perfect spring day in Rocky Mountain National Park. You woke up in your cabin to a crisp morning with singing birds and the warm sun kissing the snow-capped peaks along the divide. Lower elevations are coming alive with greening grasses and early season flowers blooming. The spring melt has begun, and the rivers and streams are beginning to rise. Wildlife of all kinds have moved into the valleys to take advantage of the fresh foliage and are readily visible throughout the area. After a couple cups of coffee and some breakfast, you’re out the door ready to hit the trail.

This is a magical time of year that coincides with elk calving season. Some of our favorite places to stretch our legs in the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park also happen to be the elk’s favorite spots to give birth. We’ve been blessed to experience it many times. Seeing an elk in the process of giving birth or attentively caring for their hours or days old calf. It’s truly a precious sight. But sometimes we forget that these are wild animals ready to defend their offspring against any threat. They aren’t the docile looking photo-ops they often seem to be.

Calves are routinely hidden very close to popular trails, or even near your cabin, or in a park downtown, with their mother grazing or resting nearby. And we have no idea! These mothering cows can and will become instantly aggressive toward you to protect their young. They are very large and lightning fast and every year someone gets in between a cow and her calf. It rarely ends well.

So what can you do to enjoy these beautiful places and still give the elk the space they require? It’s not too hard, actually. A good rule of thumb is to simply stay 100 yards or more away from any female elk this time of year, May – June. This is a good rule of thumb any time, but especially during calving season. Make your presence known. Talk while you hike. If you see an elk down the trail that doesn’t see you, make some noise. If it runs away, great. If it stands its ground or moves toward you, simply walk back down the trail you came from.

Yes, this can definitely cause you to change your plans for the day on the fly, but, trust me, this minor inconvenience is better than having an angry and defensive 600 pound elk coming after you.

Now there is more you can do and other precautions you can take, so just use this as a starting point. Following are some links that can give you some more professional advice as you prepare for your trip to the high country!

This isn’t to strike fear into you and spring is arguably the best time to hit the trails in Rocky. It’s simply to help you stay safe and enjoy this this area to its fullest!

Happy hiking!

Estes Park Elk Safety

Info on Elk from RMNP

Trail Gazette Article on Elk Calving Safety


National Park Photo of Elk Calf in Moraine Park (NPS/Baker)
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