Rocky Mountain National Park Announces Closures as Elk Rut Approaches

by Lauren Boisvert

Rocky Mountain National Park began their annual meadow closures on September 1 as elk rut season approaches. Backcountry trails and areas off of established roads are closed to foot and horse traffic from 5 pm to 10 am. The affected areas include Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Harbison Meadow, and Holzwarth Meadow, according to Denver Channel 7 News. The closures will continue into October, lifting on Oct. 31.

The closures are important for protecting both visitors and the elk. During rut, or the elk mating season, the males will get extremely aggressive and territorial. By being proactive and closing meadows and off-road trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is aiming to prevent visitors from harassing the elk. They are less likely to stumble onto an elk herd or a lone bull if the trails and meadows are closed. In this way, Rocky Mountain is protecting both its visitors and its wildlife.

Rocky Mountain officials recommend staying 75 feet away from elk during the rut season, which begins in mid-September and lasts through October. Officials say that even if an elk walks toward you, still maintain that distance by backing slowly and calmly away.

There are about 280,000 elk not just in Rocky Mountain National Park, but spread all across the state of Colorado. As the rut approaches, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings if you’re out hiking or camping anywhere in the state.

Understanding Elk Rut and How to Stay Safe in National Parks

Rut, or mating season, begins in mid-September and usually lasts through October. During this time, bull elk will gather to challenge each other for the females’ attention. They fight with their spectacular antlers, and, most captivating of all, bugle loudly across the meadows to communicate with each other.

The spectacle draws many visitors to the National Parks every fall season. Rocky Mountain National Park, in particular, has the largest aggregation of elk in comparison to Yellowstone National Park. There, they have natural predators like wolves and grizzlies, but they are left relatively alone in Rocky Mountain. Colorado is a great place to go if you’re looking to experience the intricacies of an elk rut.

But, it’s not all fun and games, of course. During this time, it’s important to be extra vigilant, especially if you’re hiking on backcountry trails or other unestablished areas. If you encroach on an elk’s territory, it may perceive you as a threat and end up charging at you.

In order to stay safe during this time, make sure you pay attention to all posted signs and keep trial and meadow closures in mind. Stay 75 feet away from wildlife, and admire them from a distance. In 2014, Great Smoky Mountain National Park also suggested that visitors should stay close to their cars when viewing elk. That way, they can enter the vehicle quickly and stay safe if an elk decides to come close or get aggressive.

All in all, enjoy your time at the National Parks but pay close attention to the guidelines. They’re there for a reason, after all.