By Adam McCully
Animals are extra busy in autumn. Birds and butterflies are flying south, squirrels and chipmunks are stocking their nests and burrows, groundhogs and bears are fattening up for long winter naps, and beavers are busy inspecting and repairing their lodges for the icy days ahead.
Pennsylvania’s wild elk are busy too. Autumn signals the mating season for these magnificent creatures. In September and October you can hear male elk bugling as they claim their territories. These powerful animals can measure nine feet tall from hoof to the tip of their antlers and weigh over 800 pounds. Bull elk engage in violent clashes as they fight for mating rights. Clacking antlers can often be heard throughout the season.
All of this activity makes elk more visible which is good news for wildlife enthusiasts. Elk are most active early and late in the day as they move from feeding in the open fields to sheltered woodlands. But they spend a lot more time in the open fields during their breeding season. Watch for a herd of cows being guarded by a dominant bull. If you don’t see anything right away, just listen for a few minutes. You might hear a bull bugling as he defends his harem from intruding males.
Best Viewing Spots
In Elk and Cameron Counties, there are a number of elk viewing areas you can visit to see wild elk. The top spot for observing elk is the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette in the heart of the elk range. The 245 acres around the center have specially planted forage plots that attract elk and other wildlife. There are viewing blinds, walking paths to explore, and horse drawn wagon rides around the property.
Inside the center, you will find TV Screens with live camera feeds of wildlife runs near the center. There are also interactive exhibits and a sensory-surround theater that provide fascinating facts about the Pennsylvania wild elk herd.
The center itself is open from 8 am to 8 pm daily in September and October. You can enjoy the center’s outdoor observation areas every day starting at dawn. In November and December, the center is open Thursday through Monday, 9 am to 5 pm.
The Elk Country Visitor Center is located at 134 Homestead Drive, Benezette, PA. (For GPS navigation use 950 Winslow Hill Road.) See more information online at ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com
More Elk Observation Areas
Elk Scenic Drive & Hicks Run Viewing Area
This is a wonderful drive along Route 555, which follows the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek from Weedville to Driftwood. On route, there are many park-an-view sites designed for safe and easy elk watching. The sites have been chosen for their outstanding wildlife viewing and scenic beauty. Also along the way, you’ll find the Hicks Run Viewing Area where there is a covered, handicapped accessible viewing blind providing a way to watch elk undetected as they feed on the rich food plot planted there. There is off-road parking and information kiosks at the site. For more information on the Elk Scenic Drive, visit the Elk herd section of our website, VisitPAGO.com
Sinnemahoning State Park
This 1900-acre park is home to a growing elk herd. Look for elk near its Forty Maples Picnic Area and north at the designated wildlife viewing area. The grassy opening near the viewing platform has been planted with clover and trefoil, wildlife favorites.
Sinnemahoning State Park is located in Cameron County, eight miles north on Route 872 from its junction with Route 120 in Sinnemahoning. It is surrounded by the Elk, Susquehannock and Sproul State Forests. At the northern tip of the park you’ll find a Wildlife Center which opened in 2011. The center has a gallery of interactive nature exhibits as well as maps and information about the region. Find out more by calling the park at (814) 647-8401 or by visiting DCNR.State.PA.US.
Bucktail State Park Natural Area
This natural area features a 75-mile scenic drive along Route 120 from Emporium to Lock Haven. The drive winds through unspoiled forestlands, beautiful hills and deep valleys. In the fall the colors are breathtaking and often wild elk can be seen.
Qeuhanna Wild Area
Spanning through Cameron and Elk County, the Quehanna Wild Area is comprised of over 40,000 acres of prime elk viewing landscape. This area is also home to the Qeuhanna Trail, a 75-mile loop that passed through Moshannon and Elk State Forests, and it’s many small and beautiful waterfalls. You can also find the Marion Brooks Natural Area here, home to one of the largest stands of White Birch trees in the Northeast. If you’re interested in “getting back to nature” this trail is the most direct route.
Elk Viewing Guide
Before you head out on your elk viewing adventure be sure to grab a Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Elk Viewing Guide for a complete directory of the best locations for prime elk watching, as well as tips on what times and seasons your most likely to spot the elk, and listings for lodgings, restaurants, and other businesses that cater specifically to “Elk Country” tourists. You can find one of these guides on our website at VisitPAGO.com, at our main office in Brookville (2801 Maplevale Road), in the Elk Country Visitor Center, or throughout businesses and rest stops in Clarion, Jefferson, Elk, Cameron, and Forest Counties.
Find more information on Pennsylvania wild elk herd and where to stay online at VisitPAGO.com or call the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau at (814) 849-5197.