A few weekends ago, Teddy and I headed northwest for the weekend to a small town called Benezette in Elk County, Pennsylvania. Teddy had visited Benezette the year before during the rut (mating season) season for elk and took some spectacular pictures of the bull (male) elk with their massive antlers. All the photos you see in this post are courtesy of him.
If you know very little about elk in PA, like me, here’s a quick background that I learned from either Teddy (who has two wildlife degrees) or from online. The Native Americans called the elk “wapitis” meaning light colored deer. While they’re related to deer, the antlers on a bull elk can be up to 4 feet above its head, meaning it can stand at about 9 foot high. These beautiful animals were abundant on the east coast from New York down to Georgia prior to Europeans coming to the states. Once settlers arrived, the elk population began to decrease due to hunting without regulations as well as land development which had been the elk’s habitat. By the 1860s the elk were extirpated (local extinction) from the area.
In the early 1900s, there was an issue with elk in Yellowstone National Park in the winter with elk. There wasn’t enough food to feed them all, so in an effort to help the elk of Yellowstone, and reintroduce animals in PA, a train with 50 elk made its way cross country to Clinton and Clearfield counties where the elk were released. Over the next 80 or so years the population of elk rose and fell based on a few factors including habitat changes, interactions with humans, and hunting by local farmers who experienced crop damage from the local elk. In the last 30 years however, the elk population has grown enough that there’s now an annual drawing for licenses for elk hunting.
Where to Stay
Because Benezette is incredibly popular in the fall during mating season, book a hotel as early as you can. We looked at places about 6 weeks in advance and booked one in St. Marys. It’s about 30 minutes from Benezette. You could also look in Emporium, Driftwood, or Ridgway. There are some rustic lodging options in Benezette, but you’ll want to book about a year in advance to get any.
The best time to view elk are around dawn and dusk in late summer and early fall. By September, most of the elk are out of the mountains in these lower viewing areas. The rut season itself ranges from mid September to mid October and this is the time that the elk are most active, and the bulls are bugling.
The 5 places we drove between for elk viewing were Elk County Visitor Center, Winslow Hill, Dents Run, Woodring Farm Viewing Area and a spot on Utz Hollow Road. They each have a parking lot and the Woodring Farm viewing area has a .75 mile trail you can walk for elk viewing. We saw a pretty large bull laying down here.
The spots we saw the most elk were on Utz Hollow Road and then by Woodring Farm and around that area, even in some local residents yards. On Utz Hollow Road, we saw two bulls and about 5 or so cows at once. Near Woodring Farm, we saw four bulls independent of each other at various points in the evenings.
Keep In Mind
- You will not have cell service, so download maps ahead of time.
- Elk County Visitor’s Center has public bathrooms and a gift shop as well as a wildlife exhibit. This is a good place to grab maps of other things to do in the area.
- Dents Run viewing areas mentioned having Wifi in the parking lot.
- Look at what time sunrise and sunset are ahead of time. Plan to be in your spot 30 minutes before sunrise and maybe 1-2 hours before sunset for the best chances to see elk.
- If you’re visiting in September or October, these back roads will have lots of traffic. Be prepared to sit and wait at some points, either because of elk viewing or just amount of people in the area.
- You may need to eat outside of Benezette. There are a few places to eat, but they may have a wait due to how many people are in the area.
- One place I wanted to stop but we didn’t get a chance was Elk Life, a coffee shop as well as donuts, and apparel.
- Talk to people at the viewing areas. You’ll hear where large ones have been spotted and the most active places for the elk.