Some wildlife viewing experiences are well worth a trip, and a journey through Pennsylvania's Elk Country is one of them. Pennsylvania is home to the largest free-roaming elk herd in the northeast. Eastern Elk used to roam the PA region in vast numbers, but the herds were decimated by the early nineteenth century. Between 1913 and 1926, Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced by the PA Game Commission. It is now estimated that around 900 wild elk live in PA, ranging over 3,000 miles and covering parts of seven counties.
Elk are visible year-round, but the peak viewing season is late summer into fall, coinciding with the Elk Rut, mating season, which occurs approximately Labor day to Columbus day. Expect large crowds on the weekends during this time and try to plan your trip around early morning and evening viewing opportunities, when Elk are most active.
Elk are truly majestic animals, and they're really big! Cows weigh about 500 lbs and Bulls can weigh up to 700 lbs. Since elk populations move frequently, the best ways to find elk are to drive or hike throughout their range. Purple Lizard's newest map, Moshannon-Quehanna, highlights hundreds of miles of roads and trails in the heart of elk country. Many of the trails throughout the Quehanna region offer the possibility of seeing elk and other wildlife.
Want to start with a driving tour of Elk Country? We have highlighted several areas to visit via car, starting in Benezette, PA, which is considered the heart of Elk Country in PA:
The first stops are in Benezette, where you'll find businesses that cater to visitors coming to see the elk. Don't miss Benezette Wines and Coffees, which offers local wine tastings and unique gifts while in downtown Benezette. Then, start your elk adventure by spending a bit of time at the Elk Country Visitor Center, where you can learn all about the PA elk herd and tour the grounds in search of elk. The Visitor Center also has a 4D immersive theater, interactive exhibits, discovery room, live forest cams, a gift shop, and even covered wagon rides. If you don't already have one, at either location you can grab your Moshannon Quehanna Lizard Map and get ready to explore!
From the visitor's center, continue your elk viewing adventure with a stop at the PA Game Commission (PGC) viewing area. Simply turn north out of the visitors center driveway onto Winslow Hill Road and drive a mile or so to Winslow Hill Elk Viewing Area. Another PGC viewing area, Woodring Farm Elk Viewing Area, is just a half mile further along Winslow Hill Road.
Dents Run Elk Viewing Area is another mile further along Winslow Hill Road. This spot offers an educational amphitheater with handicap access, and views far north into Elk State Forest.
Winslow Hill Road rejoins route 555 after a steep descent away from Dents Run Elk Viewing Area. Westbound on route 555 leads back to Benezette, but eastbound leads to Hicks Run Wildlife Viewing Area, miles of amazing mountain views, and eventually a historical sign in Driftwood, PA.
The Elk Scenic Drive continues east alongside Bucktail State Park Natural Area on route 120. There many "viewing areas" to choose from. We suggest turning right (south) onto Wykoff Run Road in Sinnemahoning. Cross a bridge over Sinnemahoning Creek and climb towards Quehanna Wild Area on a wonderful, winding road. The road here is narrow and intersects many hiking trails such as the 75 mile Quehanna Trail, Sevinsky Trail, and more! This road also follows beside beautiful cascades the whole climb, so be alert for slow moving traffic.
Be sure to stop at Hoover Farm Viewing Area at the intersection of Wykoff Run Road and Quehanna Highway, which is on top of the Allegheny Plateau. A short gravel path leads to a viewing blind, which is handicap accessible.
Head west on Quehanna Highway to loop back to Medix Run and Benezette. Along the way, continue to keep a lookout for elk. Viewing stops to check out include the Bat Bunkers noted on the Moshannon-Quehanna Map, the Beaver Run Dam Wildlife Viewing Blind (pictured above, parking lot may be closed summer 2017), and the Teaberry Trail Hiking Loop.
Want to maximize your elk viewing time? Elk are most active in the early morning and evening, so an overnight in the area is well worth it. Looking for a great place to stay where you may even see some elk from your porch? Rent one of the fantastic Wapiti Woods cabins. Wapiti is the native term for Elk.
You never know when elk will appear. Patience is key. Sometimes you just round a bend and there is a whole herd hanging out taking an afternoon nap on the side of the road!
You are also in Tom Mix territory. For historical context, the PA Game Commission began reintroducing elk to the area when he was a film star!
Please be respectful of both elk and those who live in the local community: respect private property (which is easy to identify with your Lizard Map). Please don't block roads or driveways and do not approach or attempt to touch the elk. Although some of the elk are habituated to human presence, they are not tame. Elk are very strong wild animals, so give them plenty of space!
If you're lucky you will get to see a bull elk graze along the Elk Scenic Drive. Even if you don't see any elk on your drive, the scenery is gorgeous and the roads are endless. This part of Central PA will surely draw you back again and again.
Since it can be difficult to find new trails or find friends available and willing to explore the outdoors, Purple Lizard Maps has compiled a list of many of the weekly group events in the Central PA region that will keep you as busy as you want to be enjoying the fantastic outdoor recreation in the region.