The Elk’s Habitat (Terrain, Environment, and Needs)

Elks, also called wapiti, are one of the largest land-dwelling animals native to North America. These members of the Cervidae family are now primarily found in the western parts of North America despite being widely distributed in the past. 

Do you want to learn more? Join us in this Floofmania article where we will discover more about the places elk commonly occupy and their needs to continue thriving. 

What Kind Of Habitat Do Elk Prefer?

Elks do not have one particular area of preference when it comes to their habitat. They thrive in open areas such as forests, forest edges, brushy clear cuts, marshy meadows, grasslands, aspen parkland, and open woodlands. 

Elks commonly inhabit these places to satisfy their herbivorous diet and feed on tree shoots, shrubs, grasses, and leaves. They also migrate to different elevations depending on the season. 

What Kind of Terrain Do Elk Live In? 

Although they can thrive in different places, elks gravitate to certain areas. These are the different terrains where elk commonly live. 

An elk with a snow-clad mountain side with pine trees behind it.


Wooded areas are probably the most suitable environments for elks. These places have readily available food sources for them, like tree shoots, leaves, and twigs. 

Elks also use these densely forested areas to take cover and escape from any predators hunting them. While taking cover behind blown-down trees or logs, they can peek above to check for predators or hunters. 

Aside from food and security, forested areas also provide favorable bedding sites for elk, where they can hunker down and sleep.


Elks, being grazers, also enjoy living in open grasslands where they feed on grasses, shrubs, and bark.

They only stay in these areas in the early mornings and late evenings when the sun isn’t too bright because grasslands cannot provide them with enough cover from the sun when it starts getting hot. 


As a highly biodiverse area, swamps offer many advantages to elks. Aside from food sources, swamps have extensive water sources that elk prefer, particularly when the temperature is high. 

Of course, like us who always feel the need to dive into water during a hot summer day, elk keep close to water bodies, lying in or wading through ponds or lakes, in order to cool off and escape from biting insects. 

Do Elk Need To Live Near Water?

Water is an important component of the elk’s habitat. It is estimated that they drink around 4 gallons of water per day. Thus, they only hang around places near a water source. 

In certain cases where the available food source is a little far from the water source, elk travel just so they can get the water they need. 

In addition to water from springs, lakes, or ponds, elk also get water from the plants they eat. If they can acquire enough water from plants, then elk spend less time drinking from other water sources. 

What Kind Of Food Sources Do Elk Need?

Judging by the sheer quantity consumed, grass can be considered the elk’s favorite food. They have certain preferences regarding the type of grass they consume, particularly during summer. Among their popular picks during this season are bluegrass and wheatgrass. 

Since elks are ruminants, which means that they have multi-chambered stomachs that allow them to digest tough materials, they also consume quite large quantities of twigs and bark. 

Because of these food preferences, forests and grasslands are perfect habitats for elk. 

How Far Do Elk Travel Each Day? 

Elks are active animals that move from one place to another in search of food and water sources, shelter, and bedding sites. Their distance traveled depends on the season. 

Elks travel the most during winter, often to wooded areas where there is greater availability of food. They also migrate to areas with lower elevations for better coverage. 

A migrating elk travels up to 50 miles per day to reach its winter ranges. These ranges frequently have greater access to forage, which reduces the need for elk to travel to water sources such as ponds and lakes.

Yes, these beautiful beasts are fast travelers. And if you have plans on tracking them, then you better be ready for long walks and fast movements. 

Do Elks Stay In The Same Area? 

No. Elks move to different areas depending on the season. 

During spring and summer, elks migrate to higher elevations, particularly in high grazing grounds where the cows (female elks) will give birth. 

And then during winter, elks migrate to lower elevations, like lower valley pastures, to escape deep snow and paw through the remaining snow where they can browse grass. 

If you’re interested in the entire pattern and movements in an elk’s life, follow this journey:

Can Elk Adapt To Different Environments?

Like what was previously mentioned in this article, these beautiful beasts can adapt to different environments and even seasons. Elks have an extensive range spanning at least 20 states in the US. They have adapted to different habitats, including: 

  • Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Swamps
  • Aspen parklands
  • Marshy Meadows

Elks can adapt quite easily to conditions as long as water, food, and shelter are available.

What Impact Does Elk Have On The Environment? 

Although a large consumer of plants in the environment, properly managed elk populations that can do low foraging can help stimulate plant growth

This process is a little similar to mowing your lawn. When you mow too often, the lawn will have difficulty growing back. When we don’t mow, the plants grow, create seedheads, and then often turn brown.

But when you mow your lawn just every week or two, your grass will continue growing vegetative parts. 

Author: Clarisse Jane Javier

Hello, there! I’m CJ, and I’ve been writing since primary school. I love to write about a variety of topics, from pets to the arts. I have had an endless fascination for animals since I was a kid. Until today, I always looked forward to learning more about the diverse species we have on Earth.

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