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The first time I heard elk bugling, they made a noise no big ungulate could be capable of tremulous, sopranolike, eerie as all get-out. I crave this sound, and come September I go to the place where I am so immersed in the rut-charged chorus that I can’t sleep at night: near the south boundary of Yellowstone National Park, along the Snake River.
You ford the Snake right off the bat at the South Entrance trailhead, then hike through lodgepole pine forest and broad meadows. Next comes a thermal glade full of steaming pools and streams, where the Snake rustles past and the high country spreads out before you. Press on for the best bugling hangout, a designated campsite 9 miles up the valley. The campsite sits above the river, surrounded by meadows, and the bugling goes on night and day.
Several loop hikes are possible from this point, but the best bet is a 45-mile route that ascends to the top of Big Game Ridge (10,065 feet). After crossing the bald ridgeline, drop back down into the upper reaches of the Snake and pick up the Snake River Trail to complete the loop back to the trailhead.
Getting There: The loop begins and ends at the South Entrance Ranger Station.
Prime Time: Mid-September
Guides: Hiking Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider (Falcon, 800-582-2665; $14.95).
Contact: Yellowstone National Park, Backcountry Office, (307) 344-2160; www.nps.gov/yell.