Fall is a spectacular season in Grand Teton and can provide visitors with sensory experiences that they are unlikely to forget. From the vibrant colors of changing leaves to the brisk breeze felt early in the morning on October hikes—the sights, smells, and sounds of fall combine to create an unmatchable seasonal experience in the park. One of the most unique parts of this season in Grand Teton is the sound that can be heard ringing throughout the valley forests and meadows at dusk and dawn. It is a sound that is unforgettable, and to the novice ear can be quite alarming. But to those of us who know, it is a sound that defines this transitional time in Grand Teton. The exceptional and jarring sound of elk in the height of their rut is an extraordinary part of fall.
As daylight hours start to dwindle and elk descend from their summer feeding grounds in the high alpine meadows of the Tetons , the famous elk herd of Jackson Hole begins their annual rut. This is a time where bull elk display their dominance in order to pass their superior genes to the next generation. The goal of the bull elk is to collect a “harem” of cow elk. In order to do this, he must make his presence known to the other bulls through bugling and then fend them off in sparring matches. The result is an amazing display of the true nature of these impressive ungulates.
The landscape of Grand Teton provides the ideal habitat for elk to interact during the rut, and also provides a place where the savvy visitor can sneak a view of this impressive spectacle. Below is a list of the top three places in Grand Teton to listen to elk bugling in October. Elk can be extremely aggressive during the rut, so please stay at least 25 yards away from the wildlife while you are quietly observing. Also, the elk are most active in the early morning and early evening, so plan your visit accordingly.
1. Bradley-Taggart Trailhead – This trailhead is about five minutes from the main park entrance in Moose. Drive through the entrance and continue on until you see the Bradley-Taggart trailhead parking lot on your left. You can commonly hear elk bugle right from the parking lot!
2. White Grass Meadow – Accessed from the south entrance of the Moose-Wilson road, turn west onto the Death Canyon Road. You do not have to drive the full distance to the Death Canyon Trailhead. Before the road takes a left hand turn, park at one of the pull outs and walk into the meadow on the north side of the road. This road requires a car with four-wheel drive.
3. Granite Canyon – This is the closest trailhead to the south entrance of the park on the Moose-Wilson road. Elk can be active in the meadows on both the west and east sides of the road from this trailhead.