Roosevelt Elk

Eight male elk with antlers stand in a foggy meadow.

Photo / National Park Service

Roosevelt Elk

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti), is the largest of the six recognized subspecies of elk in North America; they once occurred from southern British Columbia south to Sonoma County, California. Today Roosevelt elk in California persist only in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and western Siskiyou County.

Seven elk herds call Redwood National and State Parks home, although at times these herds become loose aggregations of smaller groups. General herd locations are the Crescent Beach area, Gold Bluffs Beach and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Elk Meadow, Lower Redwood Creek, park lands in the Orick Valley, and the Bald Hills. By 2018, an elk herd had moved into Orick, CA.

The Bald Hills herd is by far the largest in parks, numbering around 250 animals. The other herds range in size from approximately 10 to 50 animals.

In Redwood National and State Parks, Roosevelt elk may be seen anywhere from Freshwater Lagoon to just south of the Klamath River and north of the Klamath near Crescent Beach and Crescent Beach Education Center. They may be encountered in virtually all habitat types including forests, prairies, along Redwood Creek gravel bars, and on the beaches.

Elk management in Redwood National and State Parks mainly consists of keeping track of herds seasonally, especially during calving season (late May through June), and during the fall rut (late August through October), when elk are more likely to become aggressive toward humans. Park staff respond to any reports of close encounters between elk and humans.

Image of a female elk kicking at a human

Photo / National Park Service

Roosevelt Elk Safety

As the largest subspecies of North American elk (bulls can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds), Roosevelt elk are a majestic sight, but can pose hazards depending on the season. Recommended viewing distance is 25 yards (75 feet), but for your safety, farther distances are recommended in the spring and fall.

Calving season-late spring

During calving season, late May through June, female (cow) elk may be extremely defensive of their young. Newborn elk calves may be hidden in vegetation out of view, sometimes near trails. As people approach, a cow may charge aggressively, and could rear up and lash out with her front legs. A single cow or groups of cows with calves should be given a very wide berth, as tempting as it may be to try to get that great photo of a newborn calf!

Rut, breeding season-fall

During the fall rut, or elk breeding season, in late August through October males (bulls) become defensive and aggressive. At this time bulls gather their cows in groups, or harems. They may stomp and charge at both people on foot and vehicles. If you encounter a bull with his harem on a trail, slowly back away and find an alternative route.

If you encounter an elk at close range
  • If in a group, stay together
  • Avoid direct eye contact, walk widely around the animal(s) if possible, keeping it in view, watching for signs of aggitation (tongue flickering, head lowering, pawing the ground)
  • Make noise, so that your position is known to the elk

If an elk charges
  • Take cover behind, or up in, a tree
  • Drop a backpack or jacket in front of you to act as a distraction and “barrier” between you and the elk
  • Make noise, so that your new position remains known to the elk

If you witness an aggressive elk, take note of the location and report it to a park ranger as soon as possible.
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    Last updated: July 10, 2020

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