Emblazoned across t-shirts, shot glasses, mugs and a whole host of tourist gift shop paraphernalia, the Scandinavian elk has surely become one of the most capitalised creatures in Sweden; another valuable export product of the Swedish stereotype.
But despite this, for most on a city break in Sweden’s capital and beyond, encountering such a beast seems to be as exotic an experience as sunshine on Midsummer, and an intimidating challenge to undertake.
The summer and autumnal months mark the most likely time to encounter elk in Sweden, with a population of around 3-400,000 spread across the whole length of the country.
The Local takes a look at the best places for those coming to Sweden with the intention of grabbing adventure by the antlers to find the most iconic of wildlife around the country, both in captivity and in the wild.
Halle and Hunneberg, western Sweden
Located near Trollhättan, around 100km north of Gothenburg, the Halleberg and Hunneberg Table Mountains are home to The Royal Hunt Museum on Elk Hill. The hills are the venue for the royal elk hunt with Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf every autumn.
Though the hills are only 90 metres higher than the surrounding farmlands, with this eastern area of Sweden being otherwise particularly flat, the area makes for fantastic views on a clear day. Once the short ascent is dealt with, a mountainous plateau at the peak makes for over 70 kilometres of low-nutrient soil covered by swamps and forests, in which the elk roam at large.
Gårdsjö Älgpark, eastern Sweden
Just 100 kilometres north-west of Stockholm, lying just outside the small town of Heby, this 16 hectare slice of Swedish wilderness plays host to a growing family of elk and thus feels it can provide visitors with a guarantee of spotting one of the beasts.
Over 130,000 visitors came to the site in 2010, and many took the opportunity to get up close and personal on an ‘elk safari’. You can even touch the elk’s antlers on some tours.
Bergslagen Forest, central Sweden
The Bergslagen forest makes up a vast and undefined area of central Sweden, roughly located just north of Örebro. The forest is home to Sweden’s traditional royal hunting grounds and thus elk can often outnumber the amount of humans in the area.
With the vastness of this area, it is perhaps advisable to entrust the help of an expert elk spotter, which can be arranged on request through the Bergslagen tourist board. One may even be lucky enough to run into wolves or lynx in Bergslagen; critters that also inhabit the area. The tourist board also run expeditions in search of wolves.
Several charming towns also worth a visit are scattered amongst the Bergslagen area, including Kopparberg, the home of the Swedish sweet cider.
Sarek National Park, Lapland
One for the more hardened adventurers and hikers, the Sarek National Park in Northern Sweden is a mountainous area teeming with wildlife and extraordinary geography including glaciers and high peaks. Even by Sweden’s standards, a country blessed by incredible scenery and tranquil surroundings, many consider Sarek a cut above the rest.
The area is famous for its unusually large elk for Scandinavia. In the at times treacherous conditions a hiker may face in this area, the rewards that prevail come at the prospect of sighting such large elk, along with brown bears, the lynx and the wolverine – a stocky little bear-like creature about the size of medium-sized dog. Be warned though, this area is one for the hardened hiking pro.
Skansen Open-Air Museum, Djurgården, Stockholm
Of course, if treacherous hikes aren’t your thing, city dwellers can experience the majesty of the elks on a much more tranquil walk through the gardens of Skansen on Djurgården, a stone’s throw across the water away from the hubbub of the capital city.
The zoo caters for an entire array of Scandinavian wildlife, from domestic animals to exotic birds and from cute water otters to imposing bears and bison. All situated in the peaceful surroundings of Stockholm’s eastern central island, one can ogle at the elk here after a day exploring the delights of the city.
Much debate has raged regarding the classified definition of the ‘elk’ as opposed to the ‘moose’ in Sweden. In order to clear up the issue once and for all, The Local spoke to Christina Hamnqvist at Skansen Zoo to clear up the conflict.
“The moose in North America and the elk in the UK are effectively the same species as the Swedish älg,” Hamnqvist told The Local.
“In North America, however, there exists a breed of stag that is known as ‘elk’, so Americans get confused when we use the word ‘elk’ to describe what they call ‘moose’.”
“‘Elk’ and ‘älg’, however, are derived from the same German word. ‘Moose’ descends from another language – presumably Native American.”