Tourist discovers why posing for photos with angry elk is a terrible idea

Bull elk at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
(Image credit: Getty)

A woman visiting Estes Park in Colorado got an instant lesson in wildlife safety after trying to pose for holiday photos with a particularly aggressive bull elk. The woman seemed oblivious to the danger, turning her back and laughing as the animal showed clear signs of agitation, pacing and tossing its head. Eventually it drove her back with a charge.

Luckily for the woman it was only a bluff intended to intimidate her; other people have been less lucky after trying their luck at Estes Park, with some suffering serious injuries.

A video of the close call has recently gone viral thanks to Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone. The account usually calls out bad behavior at America's first National Park (such as visitors chasing wolves and petting bison), but sometimes covers carelessness at other sites of natural beauty as well. The clip, shared by kindergarten assistant Melissa Love Henderson, appears to have been shot during the rut in the fall, when males are particularly prone to aggression as they compete for dominance and the right to mate.

Estes Park is a pretty town that often serves as a base camp for people visiting nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, but is also a popular tourist destination in its own right. It's best known for its huge population of elk, with around 2,400 of the animals living in the Estes Valley.

The animals can be seen strolling throughout town (sometimes wandering into local businesses like gift shops and jerky stores), but visitors are warned to always give them a wide berth for their own safety, and that of the animals. Although they may seem calm at first, elk are wild animals and can be unpredictable

When elk attack

Although elk attacks are rare, several have been recorded in Estes Park over recent years, usually involving tourists who have wandered too close.

In 2019, two people were hurt after being charged by a bull elk in Estes Park. A woman was knocked over, and a man fell and hit his head while trying to flee. The incident happened just two days before the town's annual Elk Fest, which is a celebration of the animals involving live music, performances, and bugling contests.

In September 2017, an elk was euthanized after charging and injuring two women in the town. 

"We need people to understand these are wild animals," Jennifer Churchill, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told reporters at the time. "If they change their behavior, you’re too close. They’ll let you know [...] if they stop doing what they are doing, you’re too close."

For more advice, see our guide how to enjoy elk rutting season safely

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.