Elk are members of the deer family of ungulates. They are social animals that live in herds. There are three types of elk in the United States: the Roosevelt elk, the Tule elk and the Rocky Mountain or American elk. They live in grasslands, meadows and areas that have been clear-cut, as long as these areas are interspersed with woodlands for cover. With a few exceptions, all have habitats in the western parts of the U.S.
The Roosevelt elk, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, lives in the Olympic and Coast Ranges of the western United States; a few can be found in California. Olympic National Park in Washington State contains the most Roosevelt elk living anywhere and is the state mammal of the state of Washington. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 Roosevelt elk live in the Park. Roosevelt elk have been established in the State of Alaska as well. Roosevelt elk are very large; in fact, they are the largest of the elk found in the United States: a full grown male can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds and a mature female up to 600 pounds. Unlike the Tule elk and American elk, the Roosevelt elk does not migrate, as food supplies are more readily available in its habitat.
Tule elk are found in the grasslands of Central California and are the smallest of the elk in the United States. About half the size of the Roosevelt and American elks, a Tule male at maturity will weigh between 450 and 600 pounds and the female will weigh between 300 and 450 pounds. There are nearly 4,000 Tule elk in California.
Rocky Mountain/American Elk
Rocky Mountain (also known as American elk) habitat occurs mainly in the mountain ranges and shrub lands east of the Cascades crest. Small numbers of American elk have been established in other parts of Washington state. These elk are a little smaller than Roosevelt elk and are lighter in color, but the main difference between the Roosevelt elk and the American elk is habitat. Populations of elk that are genetic mixes of Roosevelt and American elk are not uncommon in the Cascades. Small populations of Rocky Mountain elk are found in Virginia and West Virginia.
Elk are most easily seen at dawn or dusk in open areas such as meadows, clearcuts or open grasslands. Elk have a very good sense of smell so finding a location for viewing downwind of elk is best.