Estes Park 'Tail'gate

Cooler weather, beautiful fall foliage and an epic tailgate are all part of celebrating autumn in Colorado. This year, Estes Park invites guests to enjoy a new sort of ‘tail'gate experience during the area's Elktober season. That's right, load up the truck with picnics and umbrella chairs and head to the mountains to experience the annual tradition of watching Estes Park's thousands of elk perform their mating rituals.

What is the Tailgate?

Elk Viewing from a DistanceInstead of the roar of the crowd, experience the call of the wild as the bull elk bugle echoes through the valleys. The gridiron becomes the scenic valleys of the Rocky Mountains and the plays are the locking of horns; bulls battle each other to prove dominant status and win mating rights. Teams are replaced by harems, the coveted prize for the strongest of the bulls. Elk spotters are encouraged to share the locations of the elk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, using the hash tag #EstesElkWatch to alert others of where they can be spotted.

To fully enjoy this spectacle, grab your picnic gear and binoculars before heading to Estes Park, where you can swing through town to fill your cooler with local craft beveragesdeli delights and sweet treats to take to the roadside meadows or scenic picnic areas and enjoy your feast with a view - of the most spectacular and unusual sort!  For tips on how to view Estes Park's wildlife (yes, even the ones in town are truly wild) in a safe and respectful way, please visit our Wildlife Watching page. 

About the 'Rut'

Elk in Autumn

The elk 'rut', or mating season, is at its peak from mid-September through mid-October, corresponding nicely with the height of fall foliage

 colors. Despite being the mating season, experiencing the rut is really about the witnessing the elk mating rituals (and way less weird) than witnessing the mating itself. Learn more about what the bugling, sparring and strutting is all about with the Elk Rut 101 article.

Located northwest of Denver and surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park - Estes Park is home to one of the country's largest wild elk concentrations. Every October, the town of 5,000 (people) experiences a population boom unlike any other when its 3,000 elk "residents" take time away from roaming the town's streets and teeing-off on Estes Park Golf Course to partake in their fall...tradition - inspiring the official renaming of October to "Elktober" and an annual Elk Festival.

The two activities are perfectly set among the snowcapped vistas of Rocky Mountain National Park, just west of Estes Park. In the park, nature lovers can enjoy the scenic fall views by car, on horseback, on foot or as part of a guided tour. Park rangers, local off-road vehicle tour operators and the Rocky Mountain Conservancy have talks and tours to educate guests on the elk rut, as well as flora and fauna throughout the national park. 

Annual Elk Fest, October 3 & 4, 2015

People in the Estes Valley have been marveling at the elk rut for centuries and the village of Estes Park celebrates this history each year at the annual Elk Fest. Residents and vacationers gather together downtown Estes Park for a weekend of live music, educational sessions, Native American music and stories, and elk-themed activities. Grab a map for a self-guided elk tour throughout the village, or contact one of our local tour operators to book an elk-viewing adventure! Plan your trip to the 2015 Elk Fest with all of the details. 

Plan Your Fall Getaway

Find your perfect lodging for an autumn weekend in Estes Park, from cozy cabins to historic lodges, browse all lodging here. There is plenty to do in addition to the festivals and special events, check out the online event calendar for gallery exhibitions, live music and more! 

The multi-sensory experience of fall in Estes Park provides educational, yet emotional, encounters with the regal elk alongside breathtaking views of twinkling gold aspen leaves skirting the majestic peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Sights, sounds and views one won't soon forget.