Yellowstone National Park officials released a news brief this week (5/4) reminding visitors to be cautious around the park's elk population this time of year. Most of us know to stay away from bears and bison, and locals know better than to step off the boardwalks around the park's thermal features. You should remember to keep an eye on the elk too.

Credit: NPS / Jacob W. Frank
Credit: NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Momma elk can be quite protective.

The majestic ungulates can occasionally become aggressive, particularly adult females at calving season (starting now). Trying to get a selfie with one of the adorable baby calves - while tempting - is a really bad idea. Elk can charge and kick, and you can't really outrun them if they choose to charge. Park officials offered these tips:

  • Stay alert and try not to startle any elk that may be around the corner of a building or around a car.
  • Stay at least 25 feet away from all elk. This is generally a good rule of thumb for most species you'll encounter in Yellowstone Park.
  • If an elk charges you, good luck. Just kidding... park officials say you should try to find shelter behind a vehicle or other barrier as soon as possible.

Elk calving season typically begins in May and runs till late June, with cow elk delivering just one calve. Yellowstone National Park is home to an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 elk, comprised of 6 to 7 herds. They'll often migrate outside of the park to lower elevations in the winter and return to the cool, high country in the spring.

Here are the anticipated opening dates for the following roads in the park:

  • May 6: East Entrance to Lake Village (Sylvan Pass), Canyon Village to Lake Village.
  • May 13: Cooke City to Chief Joseph Scenic Byway
  • May 14: South Entrance to West Thumb, Lake Village to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass).
  • May 28: Beartooth Highway

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