It’s always fun to see wildlife. Pennsylvania has some amazing wildlife to see, including the majestic elk. But where is the best place to see elk in Pennsylvania?
The best place to see elk in Pennsylvania is Benezette, a small town located in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Benezette is nestled among verdant state forests and wilderness preserves, making it an excellent place for elk to roam. It’s estimated that there are more than 1,000 elk near Benezette.
So what counties in Pennsylvania have elk? When is the best time of day to see elk? Do they really bugle, and how far away can you hear it? Learn the answers to these elk questions and more in the following sections.
Everything About Elk in Pennsylvania
If you’re looking for elk in Pennsylvania, you want to go to Benezette. Often called the “Elk Capital of Pennsylvania,” this small town is nestled between the Moshannon State Forest and the Quehanna Wild Area of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Benezette is a very small town. The 2020 census estimated that about 218 people live in or around Benezette, which is fewer people than live in many modern subdivisions or apartment complexes. You won’t find a Starbucks or a Walmart in Benezette, but you will almost certainly find some elk.
Elk, scientifically called Cervus Canadensis, are members of the deer family. Renowned for their massive antlers and boisterous bugling, elk were once hunted to extinction in Pennsylvania before being successfully reintroduced in the 20th century. While the herd is doing well today, elk are still relatively uncommon, so traveling to Benezette to see the elk is a popular pastime in Pennsylvania.
The first stop you make in Benezette should be the Elk Country Visitor Center located on Winslow Hill. The visitor center is an 8,400-square-foot building that was built from renewable materials and is designed to be environmentally friendly. The visitor center features walking trails, immersive exhibits, wildlife viewing areas, and an assortment of educational opportunities. You can even take a ride on a horse-drawn wagon!
If you prefer to embark on a more rugged adventure, you should head out to one of the area’s many hiking trails. Trails vary from easy one-mile loops such as the Woodring Farm trail to the 16-mile Elk Trail, both of which offer excellent wildlife viewing and the chance to see elk in person. For backpackers and serious hikers, there are a number of longer and more challenging trails that put the wild in Pennsylvania Wilds.
Perhaps you prefer to view wildlife from the comfort of your car. The Elk Scenic Drive is a 127-mile loop that winds through five counties. It passes through locations like Renovo, Sinnemahoning, and Penfield and has many great stops where you can pull over and view wildlife or take a short hike into the woods. So go slow, follow the signs, and watch out for elk!
If you can’t make the trails or the drive, check out the Elk Cam, which is set up on State Game Lands 311 and visible through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website. The cam is live during the rut, which occurs in September and October. The camera is located in an area that is very popular with elk, so be sure to tune in during the season.
What Counties in PA have Elk?
There are five counties in Pennsylvania that have elk: the eponymous Elk County, plus Cameron, Clinton, Clearfield, and Potter counties. Note that the elk-containing counties are found in the Pennsylvania Wilds, the rugged and beautiful region of northern Pennsylvania, which is renowned for its beautiful nature.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: A bull elk can stand almost five feet high at the shoulder and be more than eight feet long, and weigh more than 700 pounds.
What is the Best Time of Day to See Elk?
The best time of day to see elk is dawn or dusk. Like many prey animals, elk prefer to roam and graze as the light changes. One reason for this crepuscular behavior is that it likely helps elk avoid predators, who are often more active during daylight or nighttime hours. Keeping to dusk and dawn is also thought to help elk avoid heat stress: on hot days, they can laze in the shade.
Elk dislike hot weather and are typically not very active during hot seasons or hot times. They tend to be more active during cooler weather and will even graze during windy and snowy conditions. In the winter, elk like to live in forested areas. In the spring and summer, elk tend to migrate to fields and meadows to graze on grasses and flowers. Wherever they are, though, they tend to be most active around dawn and dusk.
What Time of Year Do Elk Bugle in PA?
The best time of year to hear an elk bugle is mid-September to mid-October. This time of year is elk mating season. To attract the attention of female elk, males will emit a loud vocalization. It is hard to describe exactly what an elk bugle sounds like: the pitch and tone shift as the elk bugles, but the sound is quite impressive, especially in the quiet of dawn.
While mating is probably the most prominent reason for bugling, elk do bugle for other reasons. For example, female elk make a bugling sound when they are in estrus or when they are giving birth.
Elk also make other vocalizations. They make grunts, barks, and chuckles. Elk herds are full of noises and sounds as the elk communicate amongst themselves using these fascinating and sometimes unearthly noises.
How Far Can An Elk Bugle Be Heard?
In the right conditions, an elk bugle can be heard from almost two miles away! However, experienced elk-watchers know that environmental conditions such as fresh snowfall or dense vegetation can affect the distance a bugle travels. For example, if they are in the forest, you can likely hear the bugle from more than 100 yards away. However, if they are in a meadow or an open area, the sound will likely travel much better.
Elk bugles travel so far because they are super loud. Bugles have been measured at over 90 decibels – that’s about as loud as a big lawn mower, a motorcycle a few feet away, or a Boeing 737 a mile from the runway. Most people find noises of about 70 decibels to be annoyingly loud; a 45-mile-per-hour freight train passing by is about 80 decibels. Elk are the only members of the deer family that can get this loud.
When Were Elk Reintroduced to Pennsylvania?
Elk were reintroduced to Pennsylvania in 1913. A herd of 50 elk was shipped by train from Wyoming to Pennsylvania. Half of the herd was introduced to Clinton County, and the other half were sent to Clearfield County.
Before their reintroduction, elk had been gone from Pennsylvania for decades. Elk were plentiful in the early 18th century, with huge herds roaming the land from Georgia to upstate New York. As settlers began to put down roots, elk became a popular game animal. As a result, humans had completely exterminated elk in Pennsylvania by the 1860s or 1870s.
In 1895, the state of Pennsylvania created the Game Commission, which was intended to protect natural resources so future generations could continue to enjoy hunting and fishing. After gaining experience in managing deer, turkey, and other wildlife populations, the Game Commission began to discuss reintroducing elk to Pennsylvania in the early 1900s.
In 1912, the federal government was experiencing a surplus of elk on federal lands in Wyoming. The herd in Wyoming was too large, and elk were suffering from starvation, especially during the winter months. Executive Game Commissioner Joseph Kalbfus worked with the federal government and procured the first 50 elk, which arrived in Pennsylvania in 1913.
The 20th century brought advances in science that enabled biologists to understand elk better. While the herd endured struggles during the 20th century, by the year 2000, there were more than 500 elk in Pennsylvania. Today, it is estimated that there are about 1,400 elk in Pennsylvania. With good game and land management, it is likely that the herd will continue to grow and thrive in the Keystone State for decades to come.
Elk County, PA: A Great Place to See Elk
As one might guess, the best places in Pennsylvania to see elk are in Elk County. Named for these majestic creatures, Elk County is home to the town of Benezette, which is the best place in the state to see elk. Benezette has a thriving tourist economy, with plenty of B&Bs, cabins, lodges, and hotels in the area to accommodate curious-minded wildlife viewers. So pack your binoculars and hiking boots and head out to Benezette – you might just get to see or hear one of these exquisite animals yourself.