Bugling Elk, Migrating Raptors, and Fall Colors in Gardiner

Bugling Elk, Migrating Raptors, and Fall Colors in Gardiner

September 06, 2022

The Northern Range surrounding Yellowstone National Park captures the hearts of visitors no matter the season, but repeat visitors often agree fall is particularly special. Elk enter the “rut,” or mating season, and put on a spectacular show. Various birds of prey take flight on their way to warmer winter habitat. And all this activity takes place against a background of evergreen trees intermixed with striking fall foliage. As September wanes and October approaches, we invite you to come stay, eat, and play with us here in Gardiner as we celebrate the turn of seasons! Safety Note: Remember to stay at least 25 yards, or the length of a school bus, from any animal including elk for the safety of you and the animal and 100 yards from bears and wolves. Elk can be particularly unpredictable and aggressive during rut.

Where to See Elk in Gardiner

Grab your camera, a jacket, and stroll around town looking for elk walking along sidewalks, munching grass in Arch Park downtown, and taking over the football field at Gardiner High School. Elk migrate to lower elevations in autumn in search of better forage and it’s common to find them taking advantage of green lawns, shrubbery, and even unprotected gardens within town limits. At dusk and in the early evening the animals’ activity increases as bulls, or male elk, gather female elk into groups called “harems” and defend them fiercely against would-be competitors – bugling to each other in challenge. The shrill call is the sound of autumn here and serves as a soundtrack for September visitors to Gardiner.

Arch Park

Located in the shadow of the historic Roosevelt Arch, the stone gateway marking the North Entrance into Yellowstone, Arch Park is a lush oasis complete with a shade awning and picnic tables. A public restroom is located behind the Gardiner Public Library. A paved parking lot offers a location to park your car and watch the elk that often gather to eat the grass here. Roll down your windows and turn off your engine to enjoy the sounds of bulls bugling and cows, or female, elk mewling back and forth with their calves. For your safety, never approach elk outside of your vehicle as both bull and cow elk can be extremely dangerous. Be aware that a group of elk that might seem content in one location can move suddenly and swiftly without warning. Another location to enjoy elk that gather in Arch Park is the Yellowstone Forever porch on Park Street, which is located nearby. The porch has a handful of large rocking chairs that offer a place to sit and watch the sun go down behind Roosevelt Arch. A number of shops, restaurants, and food cards (including ice cream!) are located nearby on Park Street.

The Baptist Church

At least one group of elk typically forage on the grassy lawn around the Gardiner Baptist Church on Scott Street in Gardiner. There is no easy parking here so these elk are best viewed from a safe distance on the sidewalk. Residents ask that you not stop your vehicle in the road to view these elk but, rather, pull over your car onto the side of the road to park and walk. The Corral, a locally owned burger restaurant, serves delicious hamburgers, shakes, and fries and has outdoor seating which makes it a great place to go to dinner with a little evening entertainment! Be careful not to walk around the back of the church without being certain where the elk are located as they blend in when they bed down and you might surprise them.

Gardiner Public School

A favorite photo of many fall visitors is that of elk gathered on the football field outside Gardiner Public School. Usually at least one bull elk and his harem gather on the grassy space and there are plenty of parking spaces available in the school parking lot to park your car and safely view them. The school is located at the edge of town near Arch Park and marks the start of Old Yellowstone Trail, a dirt road that travels approximately 7 miles north before you cross a bridge to reconnect with U.S. Hwy 89 to return to Gardiner. Drive this road to look for wildlife other than elk including bald eagles, pronghorn, and the occasional bighorn sheep.

Chelsea DeWeese writes from her hometown of Gardiner, Mont., the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

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