CO, WY, MT Fall Elk & Aspens

Birthday yesterday got me thinking about what I’ve seen and done and what I haven’t… I lived in CO while working as a traveling nurse, but spent Dec-July there, missed Fall. Never heard an elk bugle and never have I seen the aspens in their golden fall colors. Any ideas on the best places out west and likely time frames? Prefer it to be a place we can also wet a paddle. Thanks. WW

Elk do not bugle; they SQUEAL!
The sound is not at all what you would expect from a large animal. First time I heard it I started laughing. We have herds of them right near my home; my dogs try to eat their poop. Sigh.

Aspen gold lights up the hillsides at different times in different parts of CO. One fine place to see aspen AND the equally-golden cottonwood is in/near the Curecanti National Recreation Area, where you can also paddle the very large Blue Mesa Reservoir. (I did my first solo overnight kayak camping trip there.) I haven’t seen elk there, but the nearby West Elk Wilderness Area would be a likely habitat. If you paddle, be prepared for cold water (elev. about 8,000 ft and up).

An enormous, blazing aspen stand lies along the dirt road (turns to jeep trail) between Buena Vista and Salida. If you’re in this part of the state, you can paddle Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake, both near Leadville. Again, be ready for cold water, as the elevation at these lakes is close to 10,000 ft.

When my husband and I were in Yellowstone in late July, we saw elk in several places. Also bison. One or two elk even bugled, though it was not yet mating season. I guess they bugle to signal warning of people nearby, too.

Near Denver (about 60 miles from it), Kenosha Pass draws mobs of leaf-peepers. When it’s in full blaze, it hurts your eyes to look at the aspen stands on both sides of US285. Try to go on a weekday, because traffic gets horrible. Park your car and go hiking on the Colorado Trail to really immerse yourself in the bright yellow.

Blaze orange
I gotta agree with pikabike. Some awesome aspen viewing in Chaffee County and up on Kenosha. Don’t forget your blaze orange if you do any hiking looking for elk. Nothing against hunting as I’ve done it myself, but there are some genuine nut cases out there that will blast at any sound. Aspen color season and buggling elk all occur in archery and muzzleloading season. The archers tend to be much more aware and skilled. Be careful.


Thanks & a Story of My 1st Trip
We saw lots of elk in Nebraska, at Ft. Neobrara NWR a few weeks ago, but no mountains and no aspens. I’d like to get back to Idaho and to the Yellowstone area, but maybe not drive that far this trip. We’re familiar with the Granby area, Silver Creek was my preferred ski area as it was relatively close, small and uncrowded. I have a good story about our 1st weekend in CO. Arrived Ft. Morgan Thursday afternoon. After making arrangements to “Report” to the hospital Monday am, thought we should spend our 1st weekend in the Mtns. So, picked up a Rocky Mtn News and looked for adds. Mountain Lakes Lodge near Granby sounded good, so we called, made reservations, and got directions. Upon looking at the map, I thought, “Why go through Denver and take Berthoud pass, when we can take this Hwy 34 through Estes Park and on over to Granby?” So, off we headed up into Rocky Mtn National Park in early December. Just outside of Estes Park we saw a sign that said “Hwy closed __ miles ahead.” “That must be another road, heck, this is the MAIN Hwy.” As we went up and up the switchbacks, and had more and more snow on the road, we finally come to a big gate accross the MAIN Hwy. So, we got out, watched the sunset, I had a smoke on my pipe, and we headed back to Estes Park. Stopped at a gas station and asked how DO I get to Granby from here, the MAIN Hwy is CLOSED? The attendant laughs and says, “Well hell yes it’s closed, that’s TRAIL RIDGE ROAD and it won’t be open until Memorial Day!” "You need to go back to Denver, head out 70, go up… Oh well, we live and learn, huh? I would prefer Northern Colorado as I’m more familiar with the area and I could possibly combine it with a stop in Ft. Collins and a CSU football game. I would also like to stop by your shop, Eric. So you think maybe mid September would be good? Here’s one of the elk pics we got a few weeks ago, and a pic of the better half near Granby, CO. Thanks all! WW

Northern CO
If you have time, drive up Poudre canyon through North Park and around Independance Mountain. Should be some beauty aspen at the right time of year. Rabbit Ears pass is nice too. So is Willow Creek pass. Saw a mondo bull moose on the south side of Willow Creek pass. He didn’t like having his picture taken. From the time he heard the shutter to the time I hastly retreated back across the creek to the truck he had fairly shredded the nearest shrubry with his rack.


Wind River Mts.
Another good place if the Wind River Mts. Green Rive lakes is about as beautiful as it gets. Seeing moose is very likely and elk can keep you up most of the night in Sept. When elk are in the rut only bow hunters will be out. Allowing rifle hunting at that time is pure slaughter. Have seen and killed more elk than I can remember and have never ran into problems with hunters. There’s some places in Idaho I can tell where they will be at what time of year.

Yellowstone is filthy with elk. That’s one of the reason they re-introduced wolves. If you are going to a park then make it Yellowstone. It’s one thing to see and here an elk but to see and hear a wolf is a thrill that is beyond my ability to describe.

Mid September in RMNP, the elk are just starting to really wind up. Later in Sept is better (but it does depend some on the weather. Cold and clear is better than hot and dry) and even into early October. Try for a weekday visit, as there will be hundreds of other people doing the same thing. At that time of year, elk are all over the town of Estes Park, in peoples yards, on the golf course - all over. I’d say on average, the color peaks about 3rd to 4th week in Sept.

Try paddling Jenny Lake, String Lake (and even Jackson Lake) in Grand Teton NP. By early September you should see colors and hear the elk “bugle”. Jenny Lake is my favorite; 6.5 miles in circumference; easy put-in, magnificent scenery. String Lake is shallow and narrow; very easy paddling. $5 week-long permit required; at Moose Visitors Center. All the usual cautions apply: cold water, afternoon winds etc.

Going to Be Tough
In two days I’ve found I lost the 1st two weeks of September to work, Oct. 1 brother is getting re-married, teaching class October 14, 17. I’d much rather do all this NOW, instead of the best two months of the year! Looks like the 3rd week I might be able to get away, but looks like Raystown is “Out.” Thanks all! WW

Sorry it may be for naught, but
I have spent a week to ten days in the Taylor Park area for 12 years. Always mid September. It’s the middle of Colorado,9000 feet+, 40 mi or so north of Gunnison. Camped, fished, jeeped and motorcycled. Saw the wildlife, ate the fish and enjoyed the best camping ever. By the way, I don’t ride the trail bike out there anymore. This year, camp, fish, explore.

See you guys at the rendevous?

Greater Pinedale Wy. Area
Along with the Green River Lakes (one almost touches the others) there are also several good size lakes in the greater Pinedale Wy. area that would also offer some great paddling turf such as Fremont, Halfmoon, Boulder lakes and several others. They all lie up against the Wind Rivers (a spetacular range in its own right) on the western slope and they are all easily accessibile with the Green River lakes being the most northern. A couple of the outdoor shops on the main drag could probablly assist as to where you are most likely to see and hear wildlife at that time. Last it is only about 90 minutes north to Jackson Wy.(Tetons/Yellowstone) so the two areas can be packaged together on one trip.

Yup, Where During 1st Week Oct?

– Last Updated: Aug-19-05 10:23 AM EST –

Looks like I can come close to getting the ducks lined up in a row, we'll see! Brother threw me a curve and decided to get re-married Oct. 1, Extra work calls during mid September and mid October (Teaching ACLS, Basic Ahrrythmias, and working with Cardiac Rehab). So, will take my precious weekend "Off" on Oct. 1-2. Will Spend Tue-Sat at the Ozark Rendevous, and after a quick paddle Saturday, I'll head off to the wedding chapel to watch him get hitched. I'll skip the reception and get things ready to leave Sunday A.M. Will have to be a "Quickie" trip, we'll have to be back on Friday so I can work Saturday. Also, Margaret may do what she did last Ozark Rendevous and just come for day paddles and go home at night to keep from leaving the dogs kennelled for two weeks. I just came up with this new quote that I used on Margaret yesterday; "Sometimes you can't get your ducks in a row, you just get them as close as you can and hope they fall in line." Best "Philosophy" I ever came up with on my own! WW

Taylor Park

– Last Updated: Aug-19-05 10:45 AM EST –

and the whole west side of Cottonwood Pass/Texas Creek is beautiful country. I quit hunting over there when I encountered the fat guy on the dirt bike cruising the gulleys with his muzzleloader looking for an elk to blast. The ATVs and dirt bikes have gotten as bad as PWCs in some places. When I want a primitive hunt I don't want to compete with the fat guy and his thousands of dollars of cheater equipment. (Cheater as in it's illegal to hunt from motorized vehicles and should be considered unethical/illegal to motor trails anywhere or use an in-line ML during primitive hunting. -Not a stab at your trailbiking, you weren't hunting.-)

Not Fond of ATV’s Either
I “Grew up” hunting and riding arround with a gun and your a$$ planted on an ATV AINT HUNTING! Now it seems most of the deer hunters here in MO have to ride a freakin ATV. A “Primitive” hunt on an ATV, hmm, just doesn’t make sense, does it? WW

As a wildlife artist…
I’ve been to about everyplace you can go and see elk. In the lower 48, Yellowstone is tops for wildlife viewing, due both to number of animals and number of species. I’ve spent whole days watching the Lamar Valley wolf pack, or watching grizzlies. Was there at the height of elk bugling, mid-Sept., last year, and saw fighting elk, heard LOTS of bugling, saw some tremendously huge bulls.

I’d probably rank Rocky Mountain NP second for wildlife. Elk watching can be just as good as Yellowstone, but you don’t have grizzlies or wolves. On the other hand, the scenery is even better than Yellowstone unless you’re turned on by geothermic features.

Third would probably be Glacier NP. Not as easy to see wildlife there at some times of the year, but the mountain goats are a big plus. Last year we started out in Glacier, wasn’t seeing much, drove down toward Yellowstone, stopped at the National Bison Range and saw some BIG whitetail bucks up close as well as the bison (and seeing big whitetails in the autumn is NOT a common thing). Did a float trip on the Yellowstone River above Livingston, and spent several days in Yellowstone.

One note…if you want to hear BUGLING elk, you almost have to go to the national parks anymore. Elk in areas that are hunted just don’t bugle much anymore. The loudmouths have all been harvested long ago, and the quiet bulls are the ones that are most likely to pass their genes on to the next generation.

No Way
An elk bugling doesn’t make it easier to kill. It’s rare to see one bugling outside of a park. Bow hunters will bugle one in hoping it will get close enough for a shot. Often when there’s a lot a pressure the elk learn to tell the difference between elk and human. Bugling is a skill that takes years to perfect. At the beginning of bow season it only takes a handful of inexperienced hunters to make the herd skiddish. I’ve been out in the woods and heard all kinds of bugling, none of it elk.

Frankly killing a bull during the rut isn’t a way to fill the fridge with tasty steaks. That’s when their hormones will give the meat a gamey taste. A dry cow or young spike is much better.

Beside a bull bugling has anyone here heard a cow bark calling to her calf?