It’s a given for many that they may spot a small herd of majestic elk at one of America’s National Parks out west. However, these aren’t the only places in the country visitors can experience elk. These large mammals are making a comeback in the eastern part of the United States.
No matter where your home base is, you likely won’t have to fly across the country to see elk in their natural habitat. From Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado to places further east like Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, elk are drawing crowds across the country.
Check out some of the most popular places in the United States to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.
Wyoming - National Elk Refuge
If you’re looking for elk on a winter getaway, the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, WY is one of your best bets.
Home to one of the largest elk herds in the world, this 24,700-acre refuge serves as home to around 7,500 elk each winter. Elk from surrounding areas like Yellowstone National Park flock to the lower elevations and grassy plains of Teton County for milder and less snowy weather following each autumn. In the spring, they retreat back to their homes in higher elevations.
While these elk have help from a supplementary feeding program and highly regulated hunting is allowed, you’ll be able to see free-roaming elk in a natural habitat. Visitors can take tours, including ones on horse-drawn sleighs, to watch the elk in their winter refuge from fall to mid-spring.
Bison, bald eagles, wolves, and bighorn sheep are also among the denizens of the National Elk Refuge. If you’re willing to brave the cold, snowy weather, stop at the nearby Grand Teton National Park and enjoy some gorgeous winter scenery.
However, if you’re planning to travel in the warmer months once the elk migrate to higher elevations, you may want to pick a different destination.
Montana and Wyoming - Yellowstone National Park
Elk are the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone. Home to six - seven herds and a total population ranging from 10,000 - 20,000 elk in the summertime, the expansive national park gives visitors a fair chance at catching sight of these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
While Yellowstone is a large park, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Norris Junction, and Madison Junction are all noted for being elk-sighting hot spots.
It’s important to note that elk are migratory animals. While they roam the higher elevations of Yellowstone National Park in the warmer months, many of the park’s elk flock to milder areas in the winter. If you’re in the area during the colder months, your best chances are on the northern border of the park in southern Montana or the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming. Elk from the park’s interior travel here for milder winters with less snow.
Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park
There are opportunities to spot the bountiful heard on both the east and west side of the park, as well as Estes Park. Look for where wide, open meadows meet the forest line. Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and Upper Beaver Meadows all offer elk-spotting opportunities. Moraine Park will take you through roads overlooking large meadows frequented by elk, and travels can pull off different overlooks to get a peak. However, as a popular spot in one of the most frequently visited National Parks in the country, these overlooks and the spot itself can get very busy. If you’re looking for something a little less busy, check out Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Park.
On the west side of the park, Kawuneeche Valley’s Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow offer the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife, including elk. If you opt to check out this side of the park, you may even catch site of a moose.
Michigan - Pigeon River County State Forest
Pigeon River County State Forest is one of the few places east of the Mississippi where large herds of elk roam. There are several elk viewing spots in the park that offer a place to stop and enjoy the natural scenery while waiting for a chance to spot some elk.
Unlike Yellowstone, Pigeon River County State Forest offers the chance to catch site of these animals year round. Look for recently logged areas in the winter when snow covers the ground.
For elk-viewing tips and directions to the designated elk-spotting areas, visit the Pigeon River Discovery Center’s website.
Kentucky - Breathitt and Surrounding Counties
When most people think of elk, they think of wide open meadows surrounded by imposing mountains in America’s Great West. However, with an estimated 10,000 elk in the state, Kentucky turns that perception on its head. With the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River, Kentucky offers a closer option for Americans living east of the Mississippi to see elk in their wild habitat.
Kentucky was once home to large herds of Eastern Elk, but during the 19th century, the Eastern Elk were driven to extinction. Between 1997 and 2002, elk were reintroduced to Kentucky’s restoration zone from herds west of the Mississippi. In just two decades, the population has swelled.
Covering 16 counties in the southeastern portion of the state, there are many wildlife areas and state forests to catch a glimpse of Kentucky’s bountiful elk herd.
Pennsylvania - Elk County and Surrounding Areas
Elk County, PA got its name for a reason. With a growing population of 1,000, North-Central Pennsylvania boasts one of the largest herds on the East Coast. Just a few hours from several East Coast cities, Benezette, PA in Elk County and surrounding areas are a great place to relax, unwind, and see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
Just a few decades after the last Eatern Elk was killed on the East Coast, the newly created Game Commission reintroduced elk to Pennsylvania in 1913. Since then, these animals have carved out a comfortable habitat in the woods of the PA Wilds among the Allegheny mountains.
With plenty of viewing areas like Winslow Hill, Dents Run, and Hicks Run, visitors have a great chance of spotting elk and other wildlife.
Fall is a popular time to visit the area with many hoping to catch a glimpse of the Elk Rut, which peaks between Labor Day and Halloween against the beautiful backdrop of the changing autumn leaves.
However, visitors have a chance to spot elk year-round in Elk County. In the spring and summer, you’re likely to see elk venturing out into the meadows for food. In the winter, elk typically stay close to the trees for warmth and shelter.
Before the 17th century, the PA Wilds were a little different.
Acres and acres of primordial forest lay untouched by the hands of industry. Native Americans lived off the land. Elk lived among them in the forests of the Allegheny Mountains.
But come the 20th century, there was not a single elk in Pennsylvania.
Fast forward to today, and Central PA is quickly emerging as an elk-viewing hotspot. From Benezette, PA and other cities in Elk County to neighboring Cameron, Clinton, Clearfield, and Potter Counties, elk roam wildly, amazing tourists and locals alike.
So how did this species reemerge after extinction? Read on as we share the history of elk in Pennsylvania.
Why the PA Elk Went Extinct
While elk are not on the top of the food chain (after all, they’re herbivores), they rarely fall prey to predators. Bears and coyotes are responsible for the loss of just 1% of elk calves, thanks to the strong maternal instinct of cow elks.
The only predator of adult elk in Pennsylvania are people, and with the dawn of the 17th and 18th centuries, the region saw a huge influx of European immigrants who brought their love for the hunt with them across the Atlantic.
Elk were prized game for the early settlers in Central PA. And as the budding new country welcomed in the 1800s, the Eastern Elk, the species that had once roamed the forests as far north as Upstate New York and as far south as Georgia, was beginning to thin.
Already exterminated in Eastern and Western Pennsylvania, the extinction of the Eastern Elk began to spread to the north-central part of the state by the mid-1800s. Not long after the Civil War, the last elk in Pennsylvania had been killed.
Deforestation in Central PA
In addition to unsustainable hunting practices, the 19th century brought a different strain on Elk County and the surrounding region - the logging industry.
Before European settlers made Pennsylvania their home, about 90% of the land was covered with forests. However, the industrializing country needed timber for boats and buildings, and Pennsylvania had plenty to offer.
In the early 1800s, logging companies bought up large tracts of land in the PA wilderness. They harvested the old-growth forests of pine, hardwood, and hemlock, thinning the elk’s natural habitat.
By the end of the century, the Quehanna plateau was shaved clean, and the logging companies withdrew.
The Elks’ Return to Pennsylvania
In 1895, Joseph Rothrock was appointed the first forestry commission in the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, the organization that’s known today as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His goal was to purchase the deforested acres from the logging companies to ensure forest regrowth.
In the same year, the Game Commission was created, and along with that came a sense of urgency surrounding endangered species. Elk were one of these species that the commission addressed.
The Game Commission devised a solution that would serve dual purposes. Sheltered within the national park and Jackson Hole Refuge Area, one of the few remaining bastions of America’s elk population was growing too large. Instead of opening these protected areas to hunt, the commission instead decided to transport the elk to an area once teeming with the species - the PA Wilds.
So, in 1913, 50 elk from Yellowstone National Park were herded into a train, shipped across the country, and reintroduced to Clinton and Clearfield counties, 50 years after their species had been wiped out.
Also in the early 1900s, Rothrock led the purchase of several lands that would become state forests and planted millions of trees. This continued through the Great Depression with civil works programs squelching wildfires and nurturing the emerging forests.
Despite the expanding and maturing forests, it wasn’t all rolling fields of clover and easy living for the transplanted Yellowstone elk after their cross-country journey. They were released into their new home (which is quite different from Yellowstone) with no acclimation period. However, just two years after the first boxcar arrived in PA, 95 more elk joined their Yellowstone brothers and sisters in 1915.
While hunting was outlawed until 1921, farmers whose crops fell prey to hungry bull elk and cow elk grew frustrated and occasionally took up arms to defend their crops, and the occasional poacher surely ignored regulations.
Once hunting was opened in the 20s, the population began to dwindle, estimated at just 50 elk by the 1950s. Throughout the second half of the century, frustrated farmers and shaky hunting regulations continued to strain the herd which experienced little growth. But the hearty animals adjusted and regulations were tightened as the century came to a close. The elk population in PA numbered in the 500s by the new millennium.
How Many Elk are in PA Today?
The PA Game Commission’s most recent estimate of the state’s elk population is about 1,000, as of April 2018.
The PA Game Commission works to care for the elk and ensure their success by providing feeding plots and monitoring their health. An example of this is the Dents Run Elk Viewing Area, which is maintained by the game commission as they plant plenty of the food elk love - winter wheat, oats, grasses, and clovers. The elk wear radio collars to keep tabs on the population, along with their specific age of survival and habitat use.
Can You Hunt Elk in PA?
Yes. After years of establishing a strong population of elk and effective hunting regulations, sportsmen and sportswomen are able to apply for a limited number of tags.
There are three seasons as of 2019: an antlered and antlerless archery season in September, an antlered and antlerless general season in November, and an antlerless-only late season in January.
Lucky applicants can be drawn for one tag/season per year. For more information on hunting elk, check out this blog post or this page from the PA Game Commission.
Where Can I See Elk in PA?
If you’re hoping to get a glimpse of some of these majestic creatures in their wild habitat and put some of this Elk County history into perspective, Benezette is one of the best places to see elk in PA. Home to the Elk Country Visitor Center, there are plenty of places to see elk and other wildlife. For more areas to see elk, check out our blog, “The Best Places to See Elk in Benezette, PA”.
Whether it’s a viewing blind overlooking food plots or during a hike through a state park or state forest, the elk herd in Benezette is waiting for you to discover them.
From family-owned diners with big portions and even bigger menus to a local hotspot with outdoor dining overlooking an active airport runway, there’s an option for everyone exploring PA’s Elk Country.
If you’re looking for the best places to eat in Benezette and the surrounding towns, you have plenty of options. Check out our list of these 11 restaurants located within 40 minutes of the Elk Country Visitor Center.
Please note, many of these restaurants, as well as other businesses in Benezette, have seasonal hours. While we mention each restaurants’ hours, it’s always a good idea to call ahead to make sure they’re open before making the drive.
The Old Bull Cafe - Benezette, PA
4 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
Located in a renovated 19th-century church, the Old Bull Cafe is a popular hangout since opening in 2013. Enjoy your breakfast, lunch, light dinner, or ice cream on their outdoor picnic tables, or sample some of the area’s local wines.
If you’re lucky enough to be there on a brisk fall evening, snuggle up by the campfire blazing in their yard. You may even catch sight of some of the elk!
The Old Bull Cafe is open from 7 am to 8 pm and offers free WiFi. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
The Old Bull Cafe Reviews
Benezette Hotel & Restaurant - Benezette, PA
4 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
Stop in at this family-friendly restaurant and bar to enjoy lunch or dinner late into the night. Watch some sports or news on the bar’s TVs, or sit back at a table for some great conversation as you enjoy their specialty - smoked meat.
The restaurant opens each day at 11 am and closes at 12 am, making it a popular place to grab a bite to eat or a drink later in the night. For more information, including their menu, visit their website.
Benezette Hotel & Restaurant Reviews
Benezette Store and Restaurant - Benezette, PA
5 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
This location is great for a quick one-stop shop. You can grab a bite at the no-fuss diner (which has a well-reviewed breakfast). It’s also one of the closet options for groceries and other conveniences, so you can stock up on everything you’ll need. You can even fill up your car with gas!
They’re open from 7 am to 7 pm all week, and also have free WiFi. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
Benezette Store & Restaurant Reviews
Elk View Diner- Benezette, PA
6 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
This small diner and gift shop is conveniently located between two popular viewing areas - Winslow Hill and Dents Run. Noted for their fair prices and great ice cream, you can enjoy a quick bite while sitting on their large outdoor porch - and you may just catch sight of some elk!
Elk View Diner Reviews
Medix Hotel - Medix Run, PA
9 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
This hotel, located in a late 19th-century historic building, serves up lunches and dinners to locals and visitors alike in a comfortable and casual atmosphere. If the weather is nice, enjoy the local scenery while eating on their outdoor deck.
For more information, visit their Facebook page.
Medix Hotel Reviews
Weedville Hotel Bar and Grill - Weedville, PA
17 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day but Sunday, this hotel has a full-service restaurant with a wide variety of dining options.
The bar and grill is open until 12 am every day except Sunday, making it a great option for late nights. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
Weedville Hotel Bar and Grill Reviews
Big Trout Restaurant and Tavern - Weedville, PA
19 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
With a large menu featuring American casual dining classics, this restaurant specializes in seafood. They also have a full-sized tavern separate from the restaurant. Their menu is supplemented with daily specials on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Big Trout Restaurant and Tavern is open from 3 pm to 8 pm on Wednesday and Thursday, from 11 am to 8 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 11 am to 6 pm on Sunday. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. For more information, visit their website.
Big Trout Restaurant and Tavern Reviews
Rose’s Hilltop Diner - Weedville, PA
23 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
If you’re looking for one of those diners that’s loved by the locals and has a huge menu, this is the place. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this local hotspot offers a five-page menu, daily specials, and homemade pie. Though it’s not a big space, it is recognized for its cozy atmosphere and cleanliness.
Rose’s Hilltop Diner is open from 6 am to 8 pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. They’re open from 6 am to 2 pm on Saturday, and 7:30 am to 1 pm on Sunday. They’re closed on Tuesday. For more information about Rose’s, including their menu, visit their Facebook page.
Rose’s Hilltop Diner Reviews
Driftwood Saloon and Grill - Driftwood, PA
27 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
This family-friendly spot offers wings, burgers, subs, pizzas, salads, and a variety of entrees. Catch the game or some news on the TVs. You can’t miss the big elk statue out front!
Driftwood is another option for late-night dining, open from 12 pm to 12 am Thursday through Saturday. However, on Sunday through Wednesday, they close at 10 pm. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
Driftwood Saloon and Grill Reviews
Marienstadt Public House - St. Marys, PA
36 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
If you’re looking for fresh, homemade food and a great selection of local craft beer, Marienstadt Public House is a good option for you. This family-friendly spot draws its inspiration from St. Mary’s German roots, offering ten craft brews on tap from local breweries as well as a variety of locally sourced food.
They’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm. For a menu and more information on the restaurant, check out their website .
Marienstadt Public House Reviews
West Wind Restaurant - St. Marys, PA
39 Minutes from Elk Country Visitor Center
This well-reviewed spot has two things people rave about: the food and their location. Offering a wide variety of American cuisine and casual dining staples, this restaurant and bar is located next to the St. Marys airport. Their outside seating deck overlooks the runway, meaning you’ll get dinner and a show!
West Wind Restaurant is open from 11 am to 9 pm Tuesday through Saturday. They’re open from 8 am to 9 pm on Sunday, and are closed Monday. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
The West Wind Restaurant Reviews
Ready for your fresh elk burger, hand-dipped ice cream, or local beer? Plan your stay in Pennsylvania’s Elk Country.
*Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp ratings were retrieved in September 2019.
Elk State Forest and Benezette offer so many great outdoor attractions - sight-seeing, hiking, hunting, and of course, spotting elk. Rainy days can put a huge damper on outdoor activities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find fun elsewhere.
There are plenty of things to do in Benezette, even if the weather is less than ideal. Here are a few attractions in Benezette and close by that will keep the rainy day blues away while you wait out the bad weather.
Note: Before setting off on your rainy day adventures, be sure to check out each location’s website or give them a call to see when they’re open. Many of the local attractions have seasonal hours.
Visitor & Wildlife Centers
Elk Country Visitor Center
1.5 miles from downtown Benezette
Located right in Benezette, the Elk Country Visitor Center is a must-see for anyone visiting Elk County. While the bad weather may keep you from the elk-viewing trails, there’s plenty to do and see inside the visitor center, like watching a film at their 4D story theater or learning about the area through hands-on exhibits and displays.
Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park
34.4 miles from downtown Benezette
Drive out to nearby Sinnemahoning/Driftwood to visit this state-of-the-art hub of Sinnemahoning State Park. You’ll enjoy indoor interpretive exhibits about the local land, animals, and history, as well as green building design. If the weather clears up, you’ll have the opportunity to spot some eagles, elk, and other wildlife against some gorgeous natural views.
Kinzua Bridge State Park Visitor Center and Sky Walk
52.7 miles from downtown Benezette
The Kinzua Bridge was named “One of the World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Skywalks and Viewpoints” by the Culture Trip, U.K. What was once the highest and longest railroad viaduct in the world, this 137-year-old engineering marvel still stands, reinvented as a pedestrian walkway over the stunning Kinzua Gorge.
While wet weather may keep you from venturing on the bridge, there is plenty to see and learn at the visitor center about the local history and this engineering feat.
Rain won’t keep the elk from foraging for food, so you might be able to catch sight of these majestic creatures when the weather is poor. While you’ll likely want to steer clear of any long hikes, there are plenty of spots you can sit and watch for elk from the comfort of your car. Check out our blog: The Best Places to See Elk in Benezette, PA.
Visit the Local Art Studios, Antique Stores, and Gift Shops
There are so many unique stores in the area that are perfect for getting lost in for a few hours. Pick a few to visit - you never know what you’ll find!
The Elk View Company
2.9 miles from downtown Benezette
Don’t let the rain keep you from looking for elk! This shop will let you look for gifts and sample some of the area’s delectable treats while providing the chance to catch sight of elk just beyond the covered porch.
1.0 miles from downtown Benezette
There’s plenty of treasures at this arts and crafts shop located in Benezette. Though the rain may cancel the live chainsaw carving, you’ll be able to check out this shop’s wares, like sculptures, walking sticks, pottery, paintings, jewelry, toys, and more.
Grant’s Pass Antiques & Wrought Iron
3.9 miles from Downtown Benezette
Just outside Benezette, this shop specializes in wrought iron artwork and also sells antiques, gifts, and more.
Donnell’s Gift Shop
4.2 miles from downtown Benezette
Right in Benezette, this shop has been creating signs, furniture, paintings, and glassware for over 45 years.
Appalachian Art Studio
24.7 miles from downtown Benezette
This Ridgway-based art studio offers more than just art from internationally recognized artists. You can learn how to make your own chainsaw carving or pottery by signing up for one of their classes.
Elk County Council on the Arts (ECCOTA)
26.4 miles from downtown Benezette
Located in Ridgeway, ECCOTA is your go-to for buying one-of-a-kind crafts from local artists. Check out their calendars for monthly exhibits, classes, and events. If you give 48 hours notice, you may be able to book their escape room.
The Little Museum
(16.9 miles from downtown Benezette)
About a half an hour from downtown Benezette, the Little Museum offers a look into the history and heritage of Cameron County, which, despite the name, is anything but small. Tucked away in a Depression-era schoolhouse, the museum displays 15,000+ items that document Cameron County and the people who once called it home.
You’ll find displays on famous locals from four-star general and Military Governor of occupied Germany, Joseph T. McNarney, to one of the first famous cowboy movie stars, Tom Mix. You’ll also learn about Sylvania (the international electrics company that got its start in nearby Emporium) and the mysterious ram’s head carving of unknown origin.
However, the museum is only open from June 1st to the end of October, Wednesday and Sundays from 1 to 4 pm (or by appointment).
17.5 miles from downtown Benezette
Known as one of the smallest chapels in the world, Decker’s Chapel is a quaint place of prayer originally constructed in 1856. After various renovations, the once rustic stone structure is now a picturesque chapel (and handicapped accessible). Open year-round every day to visitors, stop by this quiet place of prayer.
Looking for some fun for the whole family? There are two bowling alleys within a half-hour drive from downtown Benezette - Saint Mary’s Olympic Lanes and Jireh Lanes.
St. Mary’s Olympic Lanes (18.1 miles from downtown Benezette) is open year-round, and Jireh Lanes (also 18.1 miles from downtown Benezette) is open from Labor Day through the end of May. Both have dining options, so grab a slice of pizza and get your game on!
Catch a Movie
The Apollo Theatre
19.5 miles from downtown Benezette
Located in downtown St. Mary’s, The Apollo Theatre dates back to 1928 when the palatial building served as a 900-seat theater for live performances and movies. Fast forward 90 years and you’ll be able to enjoy a new Hollywood releases with all the comforts of a modern movie theater - and still plenty of the building’s original art-deco charm.
AMC CLASSIC Dubois 5
27.4 miles from downtown Benezette
For an even larger selection of movies to watch, visit the nearby town of Dubois and its AMC theater. With all the newest release and the RealD 3D experience, you’ll be able to forget all about the rainy weather and escape into an exciting story.
Tour the Local Wineries and Breweries
While the rain will dampen the gorgeous outside views, you can always enjoy the insides while sampling some of the area’s local wines and brews.
Copper Fox Winery
15.6 miles from downtown Benezette
Elk County’s newest winery offers a wide selection of wines and also has locally crafted beer and spirits.
Twisted Vine Winery Saint Marys
17.2 miles from downtown Benezette
With many locations across Northwestern PA, visit this winery’s St. Mary’s location for a taste of their uniquely flavored fruit wines.
0.2 miles from downtown Benezette
Located in downtown Benezette, this wine shop offers a selection of local wine and coffee.
19.9 miles from downtown Benezette
Founded in the late 1800s, this local brewery offers tours, a gift shop, and plenty of beers on tap to sample.
Elk County Historical Society
26.7 miles from downtown Benezette
Learn about your Elk County experience by visiting the Elk County Historical Society and their Robinson Museum. The museum has something for everyone, from elegant Victorian clothing to photographs and documents exploring the county’s 200-year history.
You can also visit the Center Street House, an 1890s Victorian house showcasing period furniture and artifacts. On the second floor, you’ll be able to tour a recreated Victorian doctor's office and explore all those great quack cures. Tours are available by request, so be sure to call ahead.
Doolittle’s Dinosaurs & Doolittle Station
31.6 miles from downtown Benezette
At Doolittle Station, you’ll find a replica 1880s B&O rail depot and museum that explores the history of the railroad. While you’re there, dine in one of the historic railroad cars onsite. Choose between a 1950s-style diner or a parlor car from 1913. You can also sample local craft brews from Boxcar Brew Works - in an actual boxcar!
Kids (and adults!) will enjoy the 9-layout model railroad car display, as well as the self-guided dinosaur tour where visitors can dig for fossils and ride dinosaurs.
Grice Clearfield Community Museum
33.2 miles from downtown Benezette
Have a passion for antique automobiles or wild animals? You won’t want to miss the Grice Clearfield Community Museum. With cars from the 1910s to the 1980s and a display of African game mounts, there’s plenty to see at this Clearfield-based museum.
Like many other attractions, this museum is open Memorial Day through October, so take a look at the hours before making the trip.
Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park
69.0 miles from downtown Benezette
If you’d still like to experience nature despite the rain and don’t mind an hour and a half drive, check out Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park. There’s no need to worry about the rain as you take a boat ride through this large cave, exploring its wondrously formed stalactites and stalagmites. Enjoy lunch from the snack shop located in the late-19th-century hotel on the property, or pack a picnic lunch to eat under the cover of the park’s gazebos.
While there are so many awe-inspiring natural sites to see and experience in Elk State Forest, there’s plenty of things to do in Benezette when it rains.
Elk County, PA got its name for a reason. Home to the town of Benezette (nicknamed the “Elk Capital of Pennsylvania”), nearly 1,000 elk roam the woods of Elk State Forest and its surrounding areas.
But wild animals are unpredictable, and no one can guarantee you’ll see an elk in its natural habitat. In this article, we’ll share all the tips you’ll need to make getting a glimpse of these majestic creatures more likely, along with a few local hotspots for elk viewing.
Why Are There So Many Elk in Benezette?
Elk are native to the state, having roamed the primeval forests long before European settlers discovered America. But unregulated hunting and development-induced habitat loss caused by rapid settlement took its toll on the elk herds of Pennsylvania. By 1867, the eastern elk were extinct.
Then, in 1913, 117 Rocky Mountain elk were transferred to the northern part of the state by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, hoping to re-establish the species.
Having increased in size nearly ten times over, the elk population in Benezette, PA and the surrounding areas draw visitors from across the country, hoping to witness these majestic creatures against breath-taking mountain vistas.
The Best Time to See Elk In Benezette, PA
The time that you’re most likely to see elk is in the late summer and fall around dusk or dawn. This time of year is known as the Elk Rut - their mating season. It peaks during the period from Labor Day to Halloween. During the fall, you may catch sight of bulls battling it out for the right to mate.
That said, it is certainly possible, and even common, to see elk other times of the year. When winter is approaching, elk are constantly on the move. During the cooler months, they will likely find warmth among the trees. Keep your eyes out in heavily-wooded areas, and seek these out opposed to wide open fields. In the spring and summer, elk are frequently spotted in the area as well. However, when the weather gets warmer, they’ll seek out food in the meadows.
While the two hours after sunrise and the two hours before sunset are optimal times of the day to see elk, you’ll have a good shot of seeing them other times of the day, too. Because elk are such large animals, they need to eat frequently, meaning they’ll always be out and about looking for food, regardless of the time of year.
It’s important to remember that if you plan your trip during September and October (the optimal time to see elk), the area is going to be much more crowded and congested than other times of the year.
Where to Spot Elk in Elk County
While many travel to the area specifically to get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures, no matter how robust the population, it comes down to being at the right place at the right time. This level of chance is frustrating, but if you explore sites known for their heavy elk traffic, you may get lucky.
The Elk Country Visitor Center
Directions from Google Maps
The Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette is a great place to start your trip. Not only will you be able to familiarize yourself with the area’s attractions and history, but you can see elk! There are three observation trails that wind their way around the visitors center, offering an easy trek through elk’s natural habitat. These paths lead to viewing areas where you’ll see elk in a natural setting.
Winslow Hill Elk Viewing Area
Directions from Google Maps
Follow Winslow Hill Road north of Benezette to visit this popular elk viewing area. With an endless view of rolling hills, it’s a beautiful site by itself - but with elk grazing in the nearby fields, it’s something to behold. The visitor-friendly elk hotspot offers a parking lot, but with that comes crowds. If you visit during peak elk times, you’ll likely run into traffic jams.
Dents Run Elk Viewing Area
Directions from Google Maps
Moving on from Winslow Hill, the nearby Dents Run area is a great spot to encounter elk. Known as the most popular place to spot elk in the state, the PA Game Commission encourages elk visitors by planting food they love - winter wheat, oats, grasses, and clovers. Handicap-accessible and with a parking lot, this spot marries convenience with natural splendor.
Woodring Farm Viewing Platform
Directions from Google Maps
Woodring Farm is a short trip from Benezette, located along Winslow Hill Road. This site takes visitors over an accessible ¾-mile trail through an old strip coal mine. The beautiful sites along the path aren’t all you’ll see. At the end is the viewing platform is a viewing platform perfect for spotting elk.
Hicks Run Viewing Area
With a handicap-accessible viewing blind and plenty of elk-friendly food, this is another great spot to add to your elk-viewing list. Off-highway parking is available, and elk are often seen foraging late in the day throughout the year.
Residents and visitors alike often report seeing elk roaming the yards of Benezette establishments and homes. Elk have been spotted from the porch at both the ElkStone Lodge and Elk Terrace Lodge on various occasions.
Elk Terrace Lodge itself is surrounded on a few sides by fields that are part of the popular Dents Runs Viewing Area. The best part? You won’t have to worry about the crowds and traffic.
Benezette Store Campground
Directions from Google Maps
A great option if you’re looking to camp in the area, Benezette Store Campground is often visited by herds of wild elk. If you’re lodging elsewhere or just visiting for the day, swing by and see if there are any elk to spot.
Elk Scenic Drive
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to hit all the hot spots and then some - check out the Elk Scenic Drive. This 127-mile loop crosses into five counties and winds through the Allegheny Mountains. While we can’t promise you’ll see elk (though it’s likely) we can promise you’ll come upon some gorgeous vistas and tons of wildlife as you cross through five state parks.
Cell reception may be spotty in these remote areas, so be sure to print out this map from PA Wilds. Not only will it help you stay on course, but it’ll keep you tuned in to what’s coming up so you don’t miss any of the great sites.
Helpful Tips for Spotting Elk
While catching sight of a herd of wild elk is simply a matter of being at the right place at the right time, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Make sure to bring binoculars to spot elk from far away, and cameras to capture your experience. Be prepared to sit and wait patiently for the elk to stumble upon you.
When you do spot elk, stay aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re driving. Don’t stop on the road to watch them, and stay clear of private property if you don’t have permission to pass through.
While it’s easy to get excited when you see these beautiful creatures up close, trying to pet or approach them is not a good idea, and feeding them is illegal. Be mindful when deciding whether or not to bring your own furry companion along for the adventure. While many of the area’s hiking trails are dog-friendly (if on a leash), elk are big, wild animals and an encounter between Ben the Bull Elk and Good Ol’ Rover may not be the best.
Home to the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi, Elk Country offers a chance to see these magnificent animals up close and in their natural splendor. Keep these tips in mind, and your trip to Benezette and its surrounding areas may be an experience you’ll never forget.
Hike below the canopies of primeval forests untouched by civilization. Stop for a rest at a breathtaking vista overlooking the Allegheny Mountains. Spot wildlife (including elk) while exploring Elk State Forest, home of one of the largest free-roaming elk herds this side of the Mississippi.
If you’re planning to visit Elk County, PA, get outdoors and take in some of the best views nature has to offer the way it was meant to be experienced - on foot.
We’ve assembled a list of some of the best hiking paths in the area. With options for every skill level, you can take advantage of all that Elk State Forest has to offer, whether that’s getting lost in solitude, gazing out over beautiful vistas, spotting wildlife, or a little of all three.
Whether you’re looking to spend a few days or a few hours hiking, set up your home base at one of our cabins. Combining rustic charm and modern conveniences, you’ll be able to relax and take in all that Elk County has to offer.
The Pine Tree Trail
Location: Benezette, PA | Parking: Hicks Run Camping Area
Easy, 2.0 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Learning and Exploring
This self-guided interpretive or educational trail allows you to explore local history and Elk State Forest as you pass through an abandoned pioneer settlement in the Pine Tree Natural Area. From old chimneys to rock foundation remnants, you’ll find reminders of the past settlement hidden among the forest as you make your way across the old wagon trail.
You’ll also see a field of white pine that was once a farm, and learn about forest management practices, tree species, and insects. Perfect for all ages and skill levels, this easy hike is a great option for families.
Beaver Run Impoundment Loop
Location: Weedville, PA | Trailhead
Easy, 2.7 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Wildlife Spotting
Enjoy the Quehanna Wild Area in a 2.7-mile hike suitable for all skill levels. You’ll circle the Beaver Run Shallow Water Impoundment and can stop and watch for animals at the Beaver Run Wildlife Viewing Area.
Wykoff Run Natural Area
Location: Sinnamahoning, PA | Trailhead
Easy, 4.4 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Beautiful Forest Views
This casual nature hike is suitable for all skill levels, taking adventurers along streams and through white birch forests at the center of the Quehanna Wild Area. Once used as a site for jet-engine testing by Curtiss-Wright, you’ll see how nature has reclaimed the tunnels where the engines were tested until 1960.
Location: Benezette, PA | Trailhead
Easy, ¾ miles
Perfect For: Spotting Elk and Wildlife
This accessible ¾-mile hiking trail winds through 81 acres of protected fields and forests brimming with elk’s favorite foods. If your goal is to see these animals in their natural habitat and enjoy some of Pennsylvania’s natural beauty, but you don’t want to commit to a grueling, hours-long hike through dark forests, this is your spot.
About mid-way through the trail, you’ll come across a viewing platform for elk, but there’s also a chance to see these majestic creatures throughout the trail. Also along the way, you’ll have the chance to learn about the area’s wildlife and its conversation from informational placards. Guided tours are available as well through the PA Game Commission North Central Region.
Kunes Camp Trail
Location: Quehanna Highway, Karthaus, PA |
Moderate, 2.0 miles
Perfect For: Exploring Ruins and Great Views
In the early 20th century, a local family built a hunting camp in the Quehanna Wild Area. When Curtiss-Wright began testing jet engines on the land, the property was abandoned. Today, hikers can explore the ruins of this camp - a stone house built against large boulders, along with the gorgeous natural scenery. While there is no parking lot, hikers can park their cars on the side of the road at the trailhead.
Fred Woods Trail
Mason Hill Road in Driftwood, PA | Parking
Moderate, 5 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Scenery and Vistas
Let your car or truck do the initial climbing as you travel to this 5-mile loop trail that winds its way far above the valleys below. You’ll be rewarded with a relatively flat path through “rock city,” an impressive and unique assortment of massive boulders within the forest. From there, you’ll go on to explore awe-inspiring vistas, like the Water Plug Vista and Huckleberry Vista.
While you’re in the area, be sure to stop at Bucktail Overlook, also known as “Top of the World.” This site offers a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains against wide-open skies - the perfect spot to take in the fall foliage or stargaze.
Location: Benezette, PA Trailhead & Dents Run Road Trailhead
Moderate, 15.8 miles, Point-to-Point
Perfect for: Elk and Wildlife Spotting
Create your own elk-viewing experience on this aptly named trail which offers hikers the opportunity to spot free-roaming elk in their natural habitat. This easy-to-moderate trek covers old logging roads over nearly 16 miles. If you plan on doing the entire point-to-point trail, you can park a car at each of the trail’s heads in Benezette and Driftwood, and you can spend a night or two camping along the trail.
Location: Weedville, PA | Parking and Info at the Parker Dam State Park
Hard, 75 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Dense Forests, Beautiful Views
The Quehanna trail winds its way through Moshannon and Elk State Forests over 75 miles. The main starting point is at Parker Dam State Park west of Benezette Township. While this days-long hike may sound intimidating to casual hikers, cross connectors allow adventurers to carve out shorter, more manageable hikes.
Hiking just a few miles will expose you to some of the most breath-taking sites Pennsylvania has to offer. You’ll hike through dense, mature forest that breaks to expose gorgeous natural vistas. You’ll also loop through PA’s largest wildlife area, the Quehanna Wild Area, where you may spot elk and other animals!
Sizzlerville State Park to Sinnemahoning
Hard, 30 miles, Point-to-Point
Perfect for: Experienced Hikers Looking for Isolation and a Challenge
The Bucktail Path offers a long and challenging backpacking trip for hikers through the heart of the PA wilds. But less-experienced hikers beware - this trail is noted for its isolation and distance from civilization. Its official entrance is near Sizerville State Park and travels south towards Sinnemahoning. Portions of the trail require steep climbs and stream crossings, but travelers are rewarded with passage through old-growth hemlock forests, the Johnson Run Natural Area, and the Squaretimber Wild Area.
Chuck Keiper Trail
Breeze Ave, Renovo, PA | Parking
Hard, 55 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Backpacking, Natural Landscapes
Located about an hour from Benezette, this intense trail is split between an east and a west loop. The challenging, 55-mile Chuck Keiper Trail rewards its hikers with solitude and breathtaking sites through Sproul State Forst, traversing the Burns Run Wild Area, Fish Dam Wild Area, East Branch Swamp Natural Area, and the Cranberry Swamp Natural Area.
The east trail is roughly 22 miles long, and the west trail is roughly 33 miles long, offering two- and three-day backpacking options. You’ll need to cross streams on this hike, many without bridges, so it’s a good idea to save it for drier weather. If you’re up to the challenge, there are plenty of opportunities to fill up your canteen and good campsites to rest!
Hiking in the PA wilds offers a rewarding experience with breath-taking views. But it can also be dangerous. Be sure to come prepared with trail maps, plenty of water, and a plan to stay on track and safe. For tips on safe hiking and more information on the trails, visit the PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.