When Are Elk Most Active? (Night, Day, Weather, Seasons)

Elks are some of North America’s most fascinating animals. Their graceful appearance, large antlers, and shy demeanor have captured the imaginations of countless people. For that reason, people often go out to try and catch a glimpse of elks in the wild.

Many people have a hard time finding them, though. The problem is not where people are looking but when. People don’t realize that some animals don’t always follow the same sleep schedules as humans. To find one of these beautiful animals, you must look when they’re out and about. For elk, that means looking for them after the sun goes down.

Are Elk Nocturnal Or Diurnal?

Elks are nocturnal, meaning they are primarily active at night while sleeping during the day

We say primarily, though, because there are times when elks might be active during the day. This can depend on the season; though they still spend most of the day sleeping.

When Do Elk Go To Sleep, and When Do They Wake Up?

Although different from ours, the elks’ sleep schedule is quite simple to understand. An elk gets up or goes to bed based on the sun. The only difference is that it’s the reverse of how humans sleep, so when we wake up at dawn, elks settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, when we’re preparing for bed at sunset, elks are just starting their day. 

What Time of Day Are Elk The Most Active?

If you want to find spot elk, the best time to search is between dusk and dawn. For most of the day, elks sleep in their day beds which are located in isolated places difficult for humans and predators to reach. 

However, when the night starts to fall, elks have to leave their homes in search of food and water. Since their sleeping areas are often far from water sources or feeding grounds, they must travel to other parts of the forest. This is when you can find them in more populated regions of the woods. 

If you do want to try and find elks during the day, your best chance is right after dawn before the sun rises. At this moment, there’s a high chance to see elk on their way back to their sleeping areas.

Are Elk More Active At Night When It’s Full Moon?

Yes, the phase of the moon can affect elk activities, especially the full moon. And well, let’s say that werewolves aren’t the only creatures who go wild during the full moon. 

Elks have excellent night vision but must be careful at night because of predators like bears and mountain lions. However, the extra light from the moon gives elks an advantage in spotting predators. Since they can easily spot attackers, elks are more confident during this time and spend more time searching for food.

So if you plan to look for these shy animals, observe the weather and moon patterns first.

Do Elk Have Different Activities During The Night and Day?

Yes, their routine is very different from night to day. Elk focus on looking for food and water at night, so they tend to stray farther away from their sleeping quarters. It’s also at night that elks may go looking for a mate, depending on the time of year.

Meanwhile, during the day, elk are mainly focused on getting rest, and they spend most of their days relaxing in their day beds in isolated areas. When elks do leave during the day, it is usually to find a better place to sleep.

While uncommon, elk may occasionally venture out to look for water or a snack in the middle of the day. 

Do Elk Move Up And Down The Mountain At Specific Times Of The Day?

Not only do these magnificent animals move at specific times of the day, but they also change their altitude at certain times of the year. Elks generally stay in higher elevations during the day because the colder mountain air keeps them comfortable while they rest.

This makes their day beds more comfortable and allows them to sleep at ease.

Once they wake up at night, elks will descend the slopes to where food and water are available. Elks will be in the lower areas for most of the evening and night until they return to the mountains at dawn.

Do Elk Come Out In All Sorts of Weather?

Aside from the seasons, the weather also plays an important role in how elks behave. Even mild weather differences can completely change the behavior of an elk on a given day.


How much rain affects elk behavior depends on how heavy the rain is. A drizzle won’t do much, and elks will go about their day as usual.

When it rains a lot, however, or for a long time, elk prefer to just hunker down under the trees where they won’t get wet. They only venture out once the rain stops.


Elk are not as bothered by the wind as much as other kinds of weather. The wind actually benefits elks because it allows them to determine if predators are nearby through the scent which is transported a lot farther.

Of course, this works both ways and predators also become more aware of the elk’s scent. For that reason, elks usually try to use the wind direction to their advantage by changing where they make their bedding. 

These clever creatures make their day beds in windy areas. However, they make sure they can smell places downwind of them, in order to catch predators who might be lurking around.

Cold Temperatures

Although elks like the cold, too cold weather can seriously affect their mood. If the temperature drops too far, it can have a negative impact on them and it might affect their ability to forage for food.

When it’s extremely cold, elk have a tendency to change where they sleep, sticking more closely to food sources, as a way of conversing energy.

The big problem for elks is whether or not they can get enough food as snow might make it harder to access grass and other plants. However, if there simply isn’t enough food available for elks, they might choose to migrate to areas that aren’t as badly affected. 


While elk can deal with cold temperatures, they’ll avoid venturing out into a blizzard. Instead, elk look for shelter where they can keep warm. Once the snowstorm dissipates, they venture out again and search for food.


Generally, elk are adapted pretty well to handle wildfires. Since they tend to live in forested areas, they are used to fires and instinctively know how to escape them.

Once the fire has gone out, elks will temporarily relocate to another location but eventually return to the original spot. Fires are not all bad because they can make way for new grazing fields for the elks.

How Does Elk’s Behavior Change Throughout The Seasons?

While the weather plays a role in elk activity,  seasonal changes remain even more important. Like other animals, the time of the year affects elk, increasing or decreasing their activity.

What Are Elk Up To In Spring?

Spring is a transition period for elks. Elks spend spring trying to adjust to the changing weather. During the first part of spring, when new plant growth starts appearing, elks will descend to lower elevations and sample these new greens.

By the end of spring, on the other hand, they venture up to higher elevations. Elk do not like the heat during summer so they will head up to high slopes where the mountain air can keep them cool.

By the end of spring, elks will start to spend less time around the lower slopes.

What Do Elks Do During The Summer Months?

Elks don’t do particularly well in the heat. In the summer, they tend to stick to their day beds in the higher elevations where the fresh breeze keeps them from getting too hot. That means they will only seldomly descend to feed; when they do, it will only be for shorter trips.

The heat of summer also means that elks must drink more water to stay hydrated. If you are lucky, you can find these swift-footed animals making quick trips to the watering hole before disappearing back the way they came.

What Do Elk Do In The Fall?

Fall is an important time of the year for elks and the season when they’re most active.

Fall is also the time of the rut, or breeding season, meaning elks will spend much of their time looking for a mate. Between the rut and the following winter preparations, this is the time of most significant activity for our hoofed friends.

With so much to do, elks need to be active for longer intervals in the day, which means that you can find them busy well into the hours of daylight, searching for food or a mate.  September and October, in other words, are great for spotting elk in the wild.

Are Elk Less Active In Winter?

On the contrary, elk are much more active during winter in contrast to the summer months. Whereas they don’t really like the heat, our antlered friends love winter, when their thick coats can keep them warm throughout the season.

In winter, you can typically spot elk around the woods long after dawn or before the sun sets, which gives you more opportunities to observe them.

Elks are simply more comfortable with the environment thanks to their thick coats so that they stay out for longer. Additionally, many animals hibernate in the winter, which means less competition for food, and even fewer predators to worry about.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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