In late summer and early autumn, elk descend from the high country to mountain valley meadows for the annual mating season. Bull elk compete with each other for the right to breed with a herd of females. Although the competition is high, it’s mostly posturing for the females as actual fighting results in injury and depletes energy.
One of the best – and most popular – areas for viewing the elk is Moraine Park. The word “park” used in place names in the Colorado Rockies often refers to a valley or meadow. In this instance, Moraine Park is a long, glacier formed valley, with broad meadows at the lower end.
A moraine is a accumulation of boulders, stones and other debris deposited by a glacier. Aptly named Moraine Park is bounded by moraines on three sides. On the north and south, the valley is enclosed by lateral moraines, formed when the glacier deposited debris along its side. Debris at the east end of the valley formed a terminal moraine against a small mountain.
A two lane paved road to the Fern Lake trailhead runs along the south side of the Moraine Park meadow. In the cool evenings of the elk mating season, portions of the road are often jammed with cars and pedestrians watching the elk – what we like to call a “critter jam.”
While we were down along Fern Lake Road several evenings to view the elk, we didn’t take our car. We could have taken the hiker shuttle bus, but didn’t do that either. Instead, we walked.
Moraine Park campground is situated on the northern lateral moraine and there is a trail that goes down the hill to the meadow. When we visited in 2009, our campsite was right next to the trail, but, this year, that site was, unfortunately, reserved, so we had to settle for a site a little further away.
Blog posts from this visit to
Rocky Mountain National Park:
Selected Information Resources:
Rocky Mountain National Park
- National Park Service– Rocky Mountain National Park
- Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Town of Estes Park
- Trail Gazette (newspaper)
- Stanley Hotel