This Fall my family and I drove out to Benezette, PA to view the elk. If you didn't know that we have elk in Pennsylvania, not to worry! Neither did I until this year! Apparently elk are native to Pennsylvania, but were hunted into extinction years ago. In 1913 Rocky Mountain elk were reintroduced to elk country and have thrived there ever since. Their numbers are now around 1,400 and they span about 5 counties!
The Best Time of Year to View the Elk
The best time of year for elk viewing is in the Fall and Spring. The elk rut (aka-mating season) is in the Fall, so you'll hear them bugling and you're more likely to see movement and maybe even some fights! Take a listen to some bugling in the video below!
The Best Time of Day to View the Elk
Your best bet to see some elk action is just after sunrise and evening (before sunset). These beautiful creatures are doing most of their walking around while it's cool in the morning or evening. I hate to be Debby Downer, but if you drive out to see them at 1:00pm; you'll probably be disappointed. These guys like to lie down in the shade after their breakfast, and you'll likely miss them if you visit in the middle of the day.
Where to View the Elk
There are several spots located in a loop along Winslow Hill Road. If one is full, don't get disappointed! Just keep driving to the next one!
The Elk Country Visitor Center is by far the best spot to view these beautiful elk. You have the potential to get relatively close to them. They have an informative visitor center with information not just about the elk, but also Pennsylvania wildlife in general, a variety of goods in the gift shop, and hands on activities for the kids. Outside you'll find well maintained walking trails with great viewing spots for the elk. They also have a food truck and porta potties.
I will say that this location fills up FAST!! Plan on getting there early to not just get a good spot; but to get in, in general. If you go too late in the morning or afternoon, the gates will be closed because they're at capacity.
Winslow Hill Viewing Area is a beautiful overlook great for taking in our gorgeous Pennsylvania landscape and potentially seeing large herds. The downside is that you'll be viewing the elk from pretty far away. So be sure to bring a long lens or good binoculars.
Woodring Farm Viewing Area is a beautiful spot to get out and stretch your legs and potentially see elk. Follow the one mile loop trail for gorgeous overlooks and open meadows.
Hicks Run Viewing Area is a nice little viewing blind that opens onto a meadow. It would be great for inclement weather as well as visitors with mobility limitations as there is a well maintained, short trail and a wheel chair ramp up to the blind.
Dents Run Elk Viewing Area is handicap accessible and provides a beautiful overlook spot for several surrounding meadows.
Tips Based on My Family's Personal Experience
My family and I only did a minimal amount of research before heading out to Benezette for the weekend. I'll tell you what worked and what didn't!
We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Dubois which is actually a great little hotel! It's only about a 40 minute drive from the visitor center, provides a free breakfast, and had a pool for our 3 kids, which was crucial!!
I knew I wanted to try my best to photograph the elk, so I got up EARLY! I set my alarm for 5:30am and left by 5:40am! It paid off because I was 3rd in line for the visitor center around 6:15! HOWEVER, the gates didn't open until 7:30...so I had to wait for awhile! If you're travelling with little ones, this may not work for you. The line very quickly filled up after I arrived (to the dismay of the workers...don't park too close to the gate if you're the first to get there! They need room to open it and had to make the person leave!) It's only a two lane road...so be prepared for lots of congestion. As I said, we did minimal planning, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But if the line is really long to get into the visitor center, try going further along Winslow Hill Road toward the other viewing sites! I had no idea that they were there, and wish I would have explored a little more that morning! If I had to do it again, I might check out Woodring Farm Viewing Area in the morning. There's no gate or wait to get in. You simply follow the path and could potentially get a really great view of elk in the meadows!
We made the mistake of going back to the visitor center too late in the afternoon. We thought we'd let the kids swim at the pool for a bit in the morning, drive out to the overlooks around noon, and go to the visitor center around 4:00pm or so. Unfortunately, we saw no elk during the day at the overlooks. They were gorgeous locations; but there were no elk out and about. After driving around and exploring the cool suspension bridge (thanks to Mindy on the Move for this one!) we headed back to the visitor center right at 4:00pm, only to find that they were at capacity and had closed the gates! Your best bet to get a great spot at the visitor center for evening is to arrive around maybe 2:30pm or 3:00pm, bring a cooler with food/snacks/drinks, camp chairs, some entertainment for the kids, and then set up in a spot and just relax and wait for the elk!
Try to drive against the flow of traffic! You'll find that most of the traffic will be heading uphill to the visitor center. As the center fills up in the afternoon and people are turned away, the line of traffic gets pretty long. Luckily, we happened to be driving against the long line of traffic. So when we saw the visitor center was closed, we simply made the left onto 555 and another left back onto Winslow Hill Road to loop back around to a different overlook spot! We beat the traffic and got a great spot to watch the sunset!
Don't forget to watch along the sides of the roads!! Remember, these are wild animals with the ability to roam ANYWHERE! They won't only be grazing in the meadows in the overlook locations. They can be located in a grassy field along the side of the road! So as you're driving, make sure to keep your eyes open for random sightings!
What to Bring
We packed pretty light for travelling with 3 littles; but there are some things that you'll want to bring with you.
Warm clothing: Warmer clothes are a must. It was definitely cooler there than in our hometown of Erie, PA. And if you're outdoors at an overlook at dawn, you're going to want a hoodie or jacket!
Binoculars: Be sure to bring at least one set of binoculars. Even when you're "close" to the elk, they can still be relatively far away. Make sure to bring at least one good pair of binoculars to really see all the details!
Camera: If you're going to photograph the elk bring a long lens and a tripod! My longest lens is a 70-200 and it did a pretty good job! But if you have a longer one, bring it! You won't regret it!
Camp Chairs: There isn't a ton of seating throughout the viewing areas. If you're planning to stay for awhile, bring some camp chairs to get off of your feet and save your viewing spot!
Cooler: If you plan ahead and arrive around mid-afternoon at one of the viewing sites, make sure to bring snacks or dinner with you!
Books/Magazines/Entertainment: Again, if you arrive early, it may be hours before you see some elk. Bring a good book, card game, or coloring books for your family while you wait!
Comfortable Shoes: Remember that there can be a decent amount of walking around/hiking. Wearing comfortable, durable shoes is your best bet!
A Plan: We learned that there's very little cell phone service in elk country. (Although the visitor center does have wifi!) So make sure that you look at a map ahead of time and remember that Winslow Hill Road and 555 form a big loop!
Just a word of caution, too, if you're travelling with your pets. Dogs/pets are not allowed at some of the viewing locations. The visitor center lists this on their website, but it's easy to miss. So keep that in mind as you're planning your trip.
I hope this short guide helps you to plan your trip! Have you been to see the elk? I'd love to hear about your experience! Leave me a comment and let me know!
Until next time, take care and smile pretty!