The steep mountains and deep valleys of Elk and Cameron Counties make up “Elk Country,” where you can see Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd, now numbering nearly 1,000 majestic creatures. In spring, witness calves frolicking in wildflower-filled meadows. Elk spend summer days relaxing in the shade, giving visitors the best viewing opportunities at dawn and dusk. In autumn, you can experience bulls battling for breeding rights during “the rut.” When the snow flies, elk gather in impressive herds, which easily stand out against winter’s backdrop and make for spectacular photos and unforgettable memories.
Elk Country Visitor Center
A premiere elk viewing and conservation education facility with a 4D theater, interactive exhibits, discovery room, live forest cams, horse-drawn wagon and sleigh rides, gift shop and much more.
What's it like to be an elk?
The majestic elk is a sight you’ll never forget! Nicole Meyer, Conservation Education Specialist with the Elk Country Visitor Center tells an informative story of “What’s it like to be an elk?”.
Horse Drawn Wagon Rides
A fun and unique way to experience Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd in Benezette! Horse drawn wagon rides are offered around the grounds of the Elk Country Visitor Center. $10, kids 10 and under $5.
Elk viewing is a very popular past-time in the Great Outdoors Region, especially in the fall! Visitors can easily see the majestic elk in areas of Elk and Cameron counties. Considered to be the heart of Pennsylvania’s Elk Country, the town of Benezette is located along State Route 555 in Elk County, where you will find Winslow Hill and two popular viewing areas. The Moore Hill area in Cameron County is also a favored viewing spot!
- Cruise the Elk Scenic Drive! A 127-mile route through the region, with distinctive signage. Twenty-three viewing sites along the Elk Scenic Drive have been established to provide safe and easy visitation. The sites provide parking alternatives to viewing elk and other wildlife along the area’s highway. Each site has been chosen because of its outstanding wildlife viewing potential and scenic beauty.
- Rent a cabin! There is no better way to enjoy the chilly weather than fireside! Why not make it in the heart of Elk Country? Imagine: a blanket of snow covering the ground, relaxing in a cozy cabin, roaring fire in the fireplace, and the sounds of elk echoing off the mountains!
- Wagon and Sleigh Rides! Over the river and through the woods to the Elk Country Visitor Center we go! Enjoy a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride for an exciting way to view the elk! (weather permitting – call ahead! Space fills up fast!)
- Elk Burgers! Experiencing a delicious elk burger is an attraction in itself! Many restaurants in the Benezette area offer this unique delicacy! Visit Benezette Hotel and Medix Hotel for a great homestyle meal and cold beverage! Stop by the Elk County Elk Farm just south of Ridgway for homemade elk jerky and snack sticks or a variety of elk steaks and more.
Pennsylvania Elk Herd – Habitat & History
Elk once freely roamed all over Pennsylvania but the rapid settlement and exploitation by early immigrants threatened the herds. By 1867 there were no more elk in Pennsylvania. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss were the biggest factors of their demise.
In 1913 the Pennsylvania Game Commission began reintroducing elk in Pennsylvania. The elk herd we know today originated from 177 elk that were trapped and transferred to northern areas of Pennsylvania.
The reintroduction of elk took place from 1913 through 1926. The releases in north-central Pennsylvania were successful and the herd now numbers more than 800.
Visitors can easily see the majestic elk in areas of Elk and Cameron counties. Considered to be the heart of Pennsylvania elk country, the town of Benezette is located along State Route 555 in Elk County. To reach the public viewing area, start at the Benezette Hotel and travel north along Winslow Hill road 3.5 miles. Follow the signs to the viewing area. Elk can also be seen along the roadways in the free-roaming herd range located in Elk and Cameron counties. The Moore Hill area in Cameron County is a favored viewing spot of local elk enthusiasts.
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Cow elk normally give birth to a single calf in late May or early June. The calves are speckled with spots to complete their natural camouflage. Twins are a rare occurrence and happen less than one percent of the time. Normal gestation period is approximately 8 ½ months. After a short amount of time the cows and their new calves rejoin their family units comprised of cows, their calves and immature yearlings. Most yearling bulls will only grow spike antlers.
The mature bull’s antlers are fully grown by August and they now spend much of their time thrashing trees and shrubs with their antlers. Normal antler growth is up to 6 tines per side. A “royal” bull is one with a total of 12 points. An “imperial” bull has 14 points. September and October mark the mating season for the elk. While the beginning of the rut may vary somewhat from year to year, the unmistakable invitation or bugle of a bull elk can be heard echoing throughout the range. Bugling can be heard primarily during the rut or mating season. It starts as a low bellow and continues as a squealing or whistle. This is followed by several grunts.
The elk form harems of 15 to 20 cows, which are controlled by a mature bull. The bull has earned his status to lead his harem by fighting off lesser bulls for the opportunity to breed with these cows. Lesser bulls often mate also, the large bull will contain the group and be the prime breeder. These harems remain together for the duration of the breeding season. Cow elk are receptive to breeding for only about an 18-hour period. If they are not bred successfully, they will have two or three breeding cycles at 21-day intervals.
The elk remain in large groups throughout the winter months. They must dig through the snow to find grass, twigs and buds. They will eat the bark off trees and drink from the streams to sustain for the winter. The bulls shed their antlers in the late winter to early spring.
Pennsylvania’s elk range covers approximately 835 square miles in parts of Elk, Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton and Potter counties.
Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park
The Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning was appropriately named after the numerous opportunities to watch wildlife within the park including bear, eagles, otters, deer, and elk. The eco-friendly building features interactive exhibits, PA Wilds Artisan gift shop, and a variety of discussions and programs throughout the year.
More Information About Pennsylvania's Wild Elk Herd
Looking for lodging in Elk County? Check out these cabins, campgrounds, hotels, and B&Bs! Also check out the official website for the PA Great Outdoors Elk Expo.
Premiere elk viewing facility and conservation education with 4D theater, exhibits, gift shop and more. Operated by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance. Use 950 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette in your GPS.
A fun weekend August 18-19, 2018 at the Elk Country Visitor Center featuring calling contests, elk tag drawings, live music, artists, educational speakers, outdoor vendors, wagon rides, children's activities, food and calling contests.
1,910 acres of steep valleys with beautiful scenery and outstanding wildlife habitat. Wildlife center, pontoon boat tours, wildlife watching, camping, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and hunting.
Nearly 8,500 acres in Elk State Forest. This large undeveloped area provides opportunities for primitive recreation such as hiking, hunting, fishing, and wildlife photography.