Yellowstone Elk

A bull elk with a large rack bugles
Bull elk grow antlers for the fall mating season and keep them through the winter, they fall off for the new year’s growth.

NPS / Jim Peaco


Yellowstone provides summer range for an estimated 10,000–20,000 elk (Cervus canadensis) from 6–7 herds, most of which winter at lower elevations outside the park. These herds provide visitor enjoyment as well as revenue to local economies through hunting outside the park. As Yellowstone’s most abundant ungulate, elk comprise approximately 90% of winter wolf kills and are an important food for bears, mountain lions, and at least 12 scavenger species, including bald eagles and coyotes. Competition with elk can influence the diet, habitat selection, and demography of bighorn sheep, bison, moose, mule deer, and pronghorn. Elk browsing and nitrogen deposition can affect vegetative production, soil fertility, and plant diversity. Thus, changes in elk abundance over space and time can alter plant and animal communities in Yellowstone. Continue: Elk Description, Population, and Disease


Quick Facts

Number in Yellowstone

  • Summer: 10,000–20,000 elk in 6–7 different herds.
  • Winter: <5,000

Where to See

  • Summer: Gibbon Meadows, Elk Park, and Lamar Valley.
  • Fall, during “rut” or mating season: northern range, including Mammoth Hot Springs; Madison River.
  • Winter: migrate north to the northern range and around Gardiner, Montana; <100 year-round along the Firehole and Madison rivers; south to the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming.

Size and Behavior

  • Male (bull) weighs about 700 pounds and is about 5 feet high at the shoulder; female (cow) weighs about 500 pounds and is slightly shorter; calf is about 30 pounds at birth.
  • Bulls have antlers, which begin growing in the spring and usually drop in March or April of the next year.
  • Feed on grasses, sedges, other herbs and shrubs, bark of aspen trees, conifer needles, burned bark, aquatic plants.
  • Mating season (rut) in September and October; single calves born in May to late June.

Last updated: June 30, 2017

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168


(307) 344-7381

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