Flat Creek Inn

What’s the Difference Between an Elk, a Reindeer, and a Caribou?

An elk bugling during elk rut.

Elk, Reindeer, and Caribou are three animals that are similar and can easily be confused. We wanted to clear the air and get some facts straight on these animals so you never have to wonder which one is which ever again!


elk Here at the Flat Creek Inn we have a special love for elk because we have a whole herd of them RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET! It's pretty amazing to have these animals as our neighbors. Check out our live web cam showing the elk right here. Elk have light colored fur and are considerably larger than caribou. They have massive antlers that they shed every spring, and they grow back each summer. These antlers can reach up to 4 feet in length. Downtown Jackson Hole has four beautiful arches made from elk antlers. The antler arch These animals can make a very interesting bugle sound. It actually sounds like a bugle. You can hear what it sounds like by clicking here. Males (bulls) can also have big battles with each other during mating season. You can see an elk fight in action here. Elk are found mostly in Yellowstone National Park and at the National Elk Refuge (that's right across the street from us). (Much of this information came from National Geographic.)


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="689"] Photo via https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/reindeer[/caption] So here's the deal, reindeer and caribou are one and the same. Often they are called "reindeer" if they are domesticated, or "caribou" if they are more wild. Also, they are usually called "reindeer" if they come from Europe and Asia, and "caribou" if they originate from North America. Either way, they are the same animal, so call them what you will. :) Reindeer were first associated with Christmas after a Christmas booklet was published in 1821. An anonymous author mentioned that reindeer drove Santa to his destinations. Two years later in 1823, the famous Christmas poem titled 'Twas the Night Before Christmas was published and that's where the idea of eight flying reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh came from. Reindeer have been a main part of Christmas ever since! [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Photo via https://www.flatcreekinn.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/santa_reindeer.jpg[/caption] And in case you didn't know, Robert L. May was the one who came up with the idea of Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. He had two other names picked out first, but he landed on the name Rudolph. If you want to know what the other two names were, click here to find out!


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="571"] Photo via https://assets.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/styles/full_content--retina/public/media-uploads/actionfigure_tylerrudolph_fcfk7a_ds_2400.jpg?itok=O6_iC7eD[/caption] Caribou are much smaller than elk. The population of caribou is also decreasing, whereas the elk population is doing well and increasing. Within the caribou herd, both males and females have antlers. They also have really cool hooves that allow them to be able to dig in the snow and paddle through water. Caribou are known for making massive migrations, sometimes over hundreds of miles. Here's an informative video about caribou. (Much of this information was gathered from National Geographic.)  

We hope this helped you differentiate better between elk, caribou, and reindeer.

Come stay at the Flat Creek Inn and check out the amazing National Elk Refuge right across the street.

See you soon!

Elk Refuge

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between an Elk, a Reindeer, and a Caribou?

  1. Thanks for the education about the difference between these animals. To be frank, there is slack difference. In that my observation is only more hair on neck of the elk than on both the reindeer and caribou.

  2. The difference between Elk and Reindeer is that reindeer fly Santa’s sleigh! Elk don’t! Simple! Lol

    Very informative. Thank you.

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