When wanting to see and photograph Elk, many folks envision destinations like the Grand Tetons. While the Tetons are indeed a wonderful place to view Elk and many other beautiful things, people of the eastern United States don’t necessarily have to travel across the country to view these amazing beasts!
Elk in the eastern United States have a storied past. Once plentiful in the 16th and 17th centuries, eastern Elk could be found on a massive range. From the lower parts of Canada as far south as Georgia and even Lousiana, and as far west as the Mississippi River. They were larger than the Elk we see today, with bulls growing up to 1000 pounds in weight with racks as large as six feet long! By 1851, the eastern Elk was all but gone. A few small herds were believed to be located in the Allegheny Mountains, but they were otherwise believed to be extinct. Finally, in 1877, the last eastern Elk was killed in Pennsylvania. American’s ever growing expansion and over-hunting had taken its toll.
But that’s not the end of the story for Elk in the eastern half of our country. While it’s true, the Eastern species is gone, state game and wildlife management have successfully reintroduced Elk populations in many states. Pennsylvania and Kentucky both have thriving Elk herds, and last year, West Virginia announced plans to reintroduce them as well.
Last year I visited Pennsylvania Elk Country, just outside of the small town of Benezette. A delightful little town with very kind people, and breathtaking views of Pennsylvania hill country. Sprawls of hardwood forests littered with large patches of scrubland prairie and farmland as far as the eye can see. It’s not hard to see why the Elk thrive here.
A short jaunt northwest of Benezette, off of Winslow Hill Road, lies the Elk Country Visitor Center. A wonderful place to not only view rutting Elk in the mornings and evenings, it’s also a wonderful place for families to go and learn about Elk, Elk conservation, and so much more. A stuffed bull Elk is the centerpiece of the main room, surrounded wall to wall with all kinds of learning aids for adults and children alike to learn more about these amazing animals, as well as many other forms of wildlife in the area. There is also a gift shop full of the usual fare like t-shirts and sweaters, as well as some amazing work from area artists, available for purchase.
Even further still, up Winslow Hill Road, is Dents Run Elk Viewing Area. A beautiful stop with everything northern Pennsylvania has to offer. Gorgeous views of the surrounding area, with chances to view everything from Elk, Coyote, Fox, to Black Bear and White-tailed Deer. Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife often have a mobile trailer there, handing out “Elk callers” for children, and information to adults. They’re very knowledgeable and can speak to just about every aspect of reintroduction and management of Pennsylvania’s Elk herds, it’s fascinating!
Just two years ago, I had no idea that herds of Elk even existed in the eastern United States. If you fancy a visit out west, you will most likely come across them at one junction or another. But if that adventure is out of bounds for you currently, or you’re looking for an adventure closer to home in the midwest, or eastern US, visiting the herds here are well worth the time, and this time of year is the absolute best time to do it!