Elk bugling. It's not a musician playing a trumpet at a meeting of the fraternal order but the eerie song that a bull elk makes to attract females and intimidate rivals. One place you're sure to hear the unusual call: Estes Park, Colo., where the elk descend from the higher elevations of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park to mate in September and October. Excluding airfare, a two-night trip to Estes Park for two will cost about $900, including meals, $250 a night at the Stanley Hotel and $85 a person for the two-hour round-trip airport shuttle from Denver (Estes Park Shuttle;  586-5151, www.estesparkshuttle.com).
The historic Stanley Hotel (333 E. Wonderview Ave.;  976-1377, www.stanleyhotel.com) predates the 100-year-old Rocky Mountain National Park by nearly six years. Hollywood, not history, made the hotel legendary. Stephen King was a guest in Room 217 when he conceived the idea for "The Shining," and he used the Stanley as his inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in the horror novel. The 1997 TV miniseries of the same name was filmed at the Stanley. The hotel shows director Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie version of "The Shining" continuously on a guestroom television channel, an odd choice because King loathed the film. Oregon's Timberline Lodge, not the Stanley, was used for the movie's exterior shots. A basic double room in the fall starts around $250. As the address suggests, the view is spectacular.
Although menu items involving or named for elk are popular in Estes Park — there's an elk burger at the Wapiti Colorado Pub and a Staggering Elk Lager at the Estes Park Brewery — our most memorable meal didn't involve any: The eclectic Sunday brunch selections at Moon Kats Tea Shoppe & Café (205 Park Lane, Estes Park;  437-9514, www.moonkats.com) include Kats Meow Crepes, with ricotta cheese and warm blueberry compote ($10.75); the Dunked Kat, a French dip with Gruyere and Swiss cheeses ($10.75); a salad of baby spinach, green apples and brie ($7.95), and a daily soup ($5.50 a bowl), which was curried carrot during my visit. The restaurant is closed Mondays and closes at 5 p.m. other days, so dinner isn't an option.
Sharing a patio with Moon Kats is the tasting room for Dancing Pines Distillery (207 Park Lane, Estes Park;  586-2227, www.dancingpinesdistillery.com). This maker of bourbon, rum, gin, vodka and assorted liqueurs works with Colorado producers to handcraft a grain-to-glass spirit that is distributed in 25 states, including California. The distillery is 30 miles down Big Thompson Canyon in Loveland, but Estes Park has a tasting room that sells bottles, cocktails and flights. (The $16 Whiskey Lover includes four tastes and a take-home glass.) It's in a historic building with a bullet lodged in the wood over the window, and it welcomes a mix of visitors, from bikers to knitters, who enjoy cocktails and flights.
The lesson learned
European settlers nearly hunted the elk in this region to extinction. The current herds are descendants of ones brought about a century ago from Yellowstone National Park. About 400 to 600 elk winter in Rocky Mountain National Park and about 1,000 more winter outside the park, said Kyle Patterson, a park spokeswoman. The elk gather in open meadows during the rut, so Estes Park's nine- and 18-hole golf courses are among the best places to see them.
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