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Elk Viewing | Visit Pennsylvania – Complete Guide with Resources

Elk country Winslow Hill viewing area Benezette Pennsylvania wilds
Elk country - Winslow Hill viewing area, Benezette PA

Did you know: The size of public land under "The Pennsylvania Wilds" is almost that of Yellowstone National Park? Wild elk still roam the heart of this land - their bugling calls echoing over the hills under the clearest night skies in all of Northeast USA. This guide is intended to orient visitors to Elk Country (part of PAwilds) in the right direction based on official resources (for planning visits, timing and locales) with valuable tips from personal experience.

Benezette, is the legendary elk viewing capital of "Elk Country" and Winslow Hill the hub of regional conservation efforts. A smaller herd of resident elk can also be seen in the nearby Sinnemahoning state park.

The best time to see elk in our opinion is the rut season in fall when the majestic bull elk are out sporting full antler racks, fighting for their harems. Although, the elk are around all year long in Benezette. Learn more about elk and the rut by checking out the below linked article. Here, we want to thank the editorial staff at visitPAGO for featuring our "Elk Duel" photo as the cover image for their 2018 article : https://visitpago.com/welcome-to-the-rut/



Elk Rut visit elk country Benezette Pennsylvania
The Elk Duel - Rutting bulls in Elk Country, Benezette Pennsylvania


OVERVIEW

The peaceful, welcoming Benezette community reflects the minds of it's quiet, proud and hard working people. So before you read our summary of drive-through routes, back roads and public wildlife viewing areas below, remember to always respect private property rights. This remote hilly region of north west PA boasts of near non-existent cell service and rustic accommodations.

Route 555 is the main artery to the region (2 lane road). Do not underestimate driving time. Even though it is well maintained and low traffic, the winding nature of the road can easily take around 45 minutes between Sinnemahoning and Weedville (when elk are not on the road). And because all viewing areas are not directly on Rte 555 and GPS maybe unreliable at times, we strongly recommend that you find a 'physical' detailed map showing minor roads to navigate or download digital maps for offline use.

You may refer the free maps provided by PA DCNR :
http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/forestry/stateforests/elk/maps/index.htm

Do remember to fuel before exploring as gas stations are few and far in between. Gas is available at the Benezette store on Rte 555.

THE ELK VIEWING AREAS 


We've put together the Google locations we used (click to view full size) -

visit PA Elk viewing areas guide Benezette Elk Country Pennsylvania
Elk viewing areas around Benezette

visit PA Elk viewing areas guide Quehanna wilds Elk Country
Elk viewing areas in the Quehanna Wilds

visit PA Elk viewing areas guide Sinnemahoning Elk Country Pennsylvania
Elk viewing areas around Sinnemahoning


#1 Winslow Hill 

A public viewing area with off road parking is set up on Winslow Hill road, adjacent the WinslowHill Bed&Breakfast - a couple minutes drive up the road from the visitor center. Open hilltop terraces, rolling meadows and small ponds dot this forested landscape. Perimeter fences designate the borders of adjacent/overlapping State Game Lands #311. We drove down Dewey road to the SGL gates - following the elk crossing the hills on either side. The Thunder Mountain Equestrian trail runs along the borders if you're interested in exploring on horseback. 
Trail map : http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_003251.pdf


#2 Elk Country Visitor Center, Winslow Hill 

An incredibly well maintained, state of the art visitor center surrounded by sprawling grounds that serve as elk food plots and housing educational facilities, live webcam coverage, information kiosks, ready-to-assist staff, museum exhibits, gift shops, a horse drawn wagon ride, food trucks - you name it! The elk like to bed down in the woods at midday and venture out onto the fields as evening approaches. The sunset wagon ride through the meadow offers visitors a great chance to view the herd close up. 

#3 Dents run 

A mile or two further down Winslow Hill road is the Dent's run overlook. Built into the curving side of a hill, visitors can look to the fields across the valley where elk often hang about. You may want a binocular or camera with zoom ability here. Large open plots (gated) on the opposite side of the road here are maintained as part of the state game lands.

#4 Hicks run

Back on Rte 555 toward Driftwood, look for the "Hicks Run Cemetery" on the left. Off road parking and compost toilets are available. It's a short walk to the picturesque wildlife viewing blind built on the edge of a large open field onto which elk, deer and other wildlife often venture down the hills to forage. On the opposite side of the road there is a small lot with access to the Bennett branch of Sinnemahoning creek.

#5 Woodring Farm 

If you are looking for a short hike, Woodring Farm on Winslow Hill road (less than half a mile up the road from the public viewing area) has ample roadside parking and signage you can't miss. The trail gives you to access to some hidden back terraces.

#6 Sinnemahoning State Park Visitor Center & Wildlife viewing area

visit Wildlife viewing area Sinnemahoning state park PA Wilds
Wildlife viewing area Sinnemahoning state park, PA Wilds

The Park Drive runs along the banks of the Sinnemahoning creek, parallel to Rte 872 northward from the George B Stevenson Dam. The park's boat launch at the reservoir is a beautiful spot to rest or picnic at. Bald eagles nest around the waters edge. The wildlife viewing area (captured in the photo above) is just north of the visitor center. We chose to drive to it instead of parking at the visitor center. The word Sinnemahoning means "Rocky Lick" in native American - perhaps the elk bolster their diet from a salt lick (natural mineral deposits) in the area.

#7 Bucktail Overlook

Mason Hill road is a steep dirt road turning off of Rte 555 near Driftwood.  Look out for "Fred Woods Trail" signage. Be careful driving here. The Bucktail overlook is an epic open hilltop locally known as "Top of the World" (beats the PA Grand Canyon - IMHO). Go here for the 360° views and the elk and deer that show up sometimes. 

#8 Back Roads

A few potential back roads worth exploring around Winslow hill, Medix Run and Driftwood include Caledonia, Rock Hill road, Gray Hill road, Station road (displayed as Utz Hollow road on Google maps), Porcupine road. Many of these may be bumpy, dirt or gravel roads with little to no winter maintenance. These are public roads, but please be careful - they traverse private property.

#9 Quehanna Highway

If bird watching is your thing, remember to check out the Duck marshes on Ardell road just off Quehanna Highway (frequented by hunters). The shallow water impoundment on Beaver Run road also has a viewing blind with a great view of the surrounding wetlands (wear hiking boots!). At the intersection of Wykoff Run road and the Quehanna Highway is the Hoover Farm wildlife viewing area. A short trail from the parking area leads to a viewing blind on the edge of a large clearing. If you choose to explore more, be careful not to get lost - this wilderness is as desolate as it is beautiful.

ITINERARY TIPS


Since elk are most active at dawn and dusk, you can't go wrong if you plan your day so as to visit Winslow Hill public viewing area first thing early morning. Allow time for a stroll. The elk herd moves slowly. Take precautions with raincoats and protective camera gear - don't let inclement weather be a downer. A drizzle is no excuse for the alert elk to get off guard duty. 

On one such visit, soaking wet with a tripod and all, we must have provided some amusement to this cow elk we captured - she lay there between me and her herd (bedded down a little farther back up the hill on Rucki road), calmly contemplating us for a long time:

Elk watch visit Pennsylvania Elk Country Benzette PA
Elk in a field, Benezette PA


If the elk aren't showing up at Winslow Hill, your next best bet is the visitor center (working hours from 8AM; but grounds may open earlier). When you've also covered Dent's run and Hick's run viewing areas and maybe the Woodring farm trail, head over to town for breakfast - the Benezette hotel offers a wide lunch/dinner menu. Elk burgers are a specialty. The Old Bull Café and Medix hotel are some other restaurants in town.

Take your time exploring some backroads or the Quehanna highway. If you have another day to spend in the area, you can comfortably cover Sinnemahoning state park as well. We always loop back to Winslow hill around sunset before retiring for the night.

Cool early mornings increase your chance of spotting elk. Cow elk are visible throughout the year and calve in early summer (late May to June). And if you're looking for the bulls, the rut is the best time (mid September to late October). The bulls may be in the woods or not visible but you can tell one is nearby by their bugle. Be patient, one might eventually emerge right in front of you!

Don't be shy to talk to the people around - smile! Lots of friendly folk offer viewing through their optical gear so that it may help someone see far away herds. On one of our visits, a conversation with a kind lady whom I helped in spotting the elk informed me of a small group of bulls sparring in a field across the Sinnemahoning creek. We rushed to the scene to be rewarded with this picture:

The Rut Elk watch visit Pennsylvania Elk Country Benzette PA
The Elk Rut - Benezette, Pennsylvania
Since it's easier to spot wildlife during the first and last few hours of daylight, we recommend you stay in or around Benezette for the best experience. Secondary options include the nearby towns of Clearfield, St.Marys or DuBois - all of which are at least a half hour drive away. Campers can check out the conveniently located Big Elk Lick and Benezette store campgrounds.


RESPONSIBLE ELK VIEWING 


Tips from the Pennsylvania Game commission:
  • Keep a Safe Distance — Elk are wild animals. Always observe from a safe distance, and at the minimum of 100 yards (the length of a football field). Risk of serious injury or death can occur if a safe distance is not observed. If you cause the animal to move, you are too close.
  • Do Not Block Traffic — When viewing elk from your vehicle, park completely off the roadway or view elk from designated Wildlife Viewing Areas.
  • Respect Private Property — Elk know no boundaries. Please respect private property when viewing elk.
  • Be Mindful of Rutting Season — Mid-September through October is elk mating season. During this time bull elk are very protective of their harems and can be extremely aggressive.
  • Do Not Feed Elk — Feeding elk in Pennsylvania is illegal.


PUBLIC INFO & LINKS


From the perspective of a first time visitor, official tourism resources may at first seem scattered among land management divisions (Forests, Game lands, county, public, private alliances etc). Personally, we were unsure where to start. Let's fill in that gap. Click to view full size image below.

As of 2018, there are around 1000 elk in Pennsylvania. The highest densities of elk in "Elk Country" are in the counties of Cameron and Elk. And while the neighboring Potter, Clinton and Clearfield counties share contiguous state forest land; they offer primarily different avenues for visitors to explore the PA wilderness.

PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau is the official tourism promotion agency : https://visitpago.com/outdoor-adventures/elk-viewing/

Elk Viewing areas :  https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/Elk/Pages/ElkViewingDestinations.aspx


ElkCountry Live Webcam by the PA Game Commission: https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/Elk/Pages/default.aspx



Elk state forest (Bureau of Forestry):

https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateForests/FindAForest/Elk/Pages/default.aspx

NOTES


  • A small part of the Quehanna wild area has restricted access owing to a decommissioned nuclear facility: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quehanna_Wild_Area
  • There isn't much data out there concerning statewise black bear density. So saying that the Appalachians of north-central Pennsylvania are a bear hotspot is an educated guess. If you decide to hike trails in and around the PAwilds; camp in a tent or stargaze after dark, be "bear" aware. Attacks are extremely rare though and most bears like other wildlife, stay away from humans. If you're interested, the latest harvest data is available here: http://www.pgcapps.pa.gov/Harvest/Bear 

At this point we think you're all set to head on over to the Elk Country visitor center in Benezette (https://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com/) - pick up some local business brochures, view the resident herd and spend some quality time away with friends/family. If this article helped you, let us know in a comment or hit the subscribe button on top for future posts. Stop by our gallery! Thanks in advance for your support - it keeps us going.

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