All summer long I have been hearing about the Elk in PA. Several cousins, a friend (her friend) and even random Facebook updates –have all been teasing us with photos and stories about visiting the herd located on the other side of the Allegheny National Forest. Finally, the Saturday before last, (the ninth) we couldn’t take it anymore and I found myself scouring VisitPa.com trying to find a motel to book for the night.
Unfortunately, everything was full :( and I resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t go until next summer. Luckily, a friend convinced me we could do it in a day, I went straight home and talked Super G into the last minute trip. She was absolutely right! The drive down (and over) to Benezette, PA, where the large elk herd is located, takes just about three hours one way. It is a spectacular drive at this time of year!
We left early Sunday morning, it was a dreary day but as we headed out on I-79, then I-80, the sun started peeking through the clouds. I spent a good portion of the trip pointing out the window while saying varying phrases about the beauty of the scenery we were driving past.
“OH look at those clouds!”, “OMG! Those trees are gorgeous!”, “WOW! Look how BIG those hills are!” were just a few ways I startled the children out of their “are we there yet” sulkiness. We ended up stopping for breakfast in Brookville. The Country Pride restaurant at the Travel Centers of America had delicious food, friendly staff and a very nice view!
Super G. and the kids had a little too much fun teasing me about being eaten by a bear after I spilled honey on my jeans, Eek! After stretching our legs we finished out the rest of the trip winding through the hills of The PA Wilds. It really is a beautiful part of the state, and one that I’ve never been to before. The fall foliage seemed almost too colorful and pretty to be real!
Finally! We arrived at the Elk Country Visitor Center! How I loved the huge fireplace, complete with a toasty fire, inside. The smell of wood smoke was so nice, it made me miss our old wood stove — a warm fire on a cold night is so cozy! The large building houses a gift shop with “Made in the USA” handcrafted and souvenir items as well as a large display of stuffed elk, birds and other wildlife, even a porcupine!
Super G. and I spent a few minutes oohing and ahhhing over the building’s construction, the wood and stonework made it seem like we were at a lodge or camp. I wish we could have moved right in, lol!
The whole back of the building is just a wall of floor to ceiling windows. There are binoculars, telescopes, stools and interactive touch screens scattered along the panes of glass that overlook the wooded area beyond. I had to smile when I overheard an elderly lady exclaiming to her two friends how “awesome” the interactive screen about the local wildlife was, she was just so excited! Too cute.
We wandered around inside the building for some time without any elk siting. Then we watched the twenty minute movie about the over-hunting and disappearance of the last PA elk in 1867. We enjoyed learning about the history of PA elk and other wildlife even though there weren’t quite enough log benches to seat everyone in our group.
We headed outside after the movie to see what we could see! There are several well marked and level trails throughout the wooded areas surrounding the visitor center. Each one leads to a tucked away elk viewing spot that is protected by a stone wall. I can easily see my step-dad being able to use his wheeled walker on the smooth pathways and saw two wheelchairs in use while we were there. How nice that everyone can share in the gorgeous setting! We explored each pathway, hoping to catch a glimpse of our first elk.
Nope! We did see this friendly green caterpillar next to the port-a-potty though ;)
I kept reminding everyone how nice it was to be out and away from home. The day definitely had a nip in the air but the sun was shining , there were only a few sprinkles and we were together enjoying the day!
Everyone was starting to get a wee bit grumpy thinking about how our over three hour drive down might turn out to be less than they expected. I worried we were there at the wrong time. We had arrived around noonish and had been wandering the grounds for almost two hours. I hoped the elk weren’t going to be like our local deer, only coming out during the early morning and evening hours — If that were the case then we would be out of luck!
Feeling cold and dejected, a sign for hot chocolate drew us over to warm our chilly hands. We took our treat to the nearest trail and found a bench at the end overlooking the field and a stunning autumn view of distant tree covered hills. Sitting there relaxing and just being outdoors finally had its effect on us. We forgot about being grumpy and turned silly instead, as we usually do!
Which was great because Super G snapped some really nice shots of the kids with very real smiles on their faces!
The kind of smiles that say, “who cares what we’re doing, we’re having fun together“!
We were having such a good time sitting there enjoying each other’s company that we hardly noticed when a man and his young son joined us. Then as we were chatting with them about how we had yet to spy any elk in the few hours we’d been at the site, the man pointed out across the field.
We hadn’t missed them after all, we just had to find our patience! And oh how happy I am that we didn’t give up and leave right away. Almost immediately, the big bull elk that appeared over the knoll lifted his head high and let out a LOUD bugle!
I’ve never heard anything like that bugle before!
And that is that!
We oohed and ahhhed over the large grazing elk that we had come to see. I have to say, after this trip I will stop complaining about how much I hate my camera! All of these elk photos were taken using the FULL 26x zoom on my Nikon P&S, that’s with quite a bit of wind and my very unsteady hands!
I think the photo of that big bull elk in mid bugle is pretty sweet! Doesn’t he look so funny and majestic at the same time?
There ended up being two bull elk, the large bugling one, and a smaller, teenager looking one. The small group of cows (10 or eleven I think) nonchalantly grazed around and in between them. The two bull seemed to stay at a respectable distance from each other.
Around this time, everyone else on the grounds must have realized we were the only ones standing in the most desirable spot there. We were soon surrounded by excited happy people all trying to get a peek at the elk. It was fun being caught up in the excitement of the group and after watching the elk for a few more moments we moved back to let some other elk peepers get a better look.
I think this trip marks the start of a new family tradition. We had already started planning the details of our return next summer before our feet even found the car. Next time though, I am calling months in advance so that we can rent a cabin or room to enjoy an entire weekend in the area. We can’t wait! If you are ever near Benezette, PA, the Elk Country Visitor Center is a must see!