May 10, 2021

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Wild Pennsylvania: The state’s Elk Country is home to more than 1,000 of the animals – Lifestyle – Ionia Sentinel – Standard-Ionia, MI

3 min read

Pennsylvania is known for its pretzels, the Liberty Bell, as the Chocolate Capital of the U.S. and the birthplace of the Big Mac. However, many of us do not realize that the commonwealth is home to the largest free roaming elk herd in the northeast United States and east of the Mississippi.

Wildlife seekers come from far away to get a look at these striking animals in Pennsylvania. The herd is estimated to be about 1,400 strong. Elk Country here is made up of valleys and mountains, which make a perfect home for elk and beautiful scenery for spectators. Just about any season is a good time to visit these stately animals.

In the spring, spectators will be amazed as the calves can be found playing in the meadows. In the summer, visitors will find the elk “chilling” in the shade of the trees. The autumn is “the rut,” a time when the bulls are bellowing or bugling for the cows to mate. It is the perfect time to hear the call of the elk in the wild. In the winter months elk seekers will find the animals gathered in herds. Their dark color stands out against the snow and makes for a fantastic photo op.

The best place to begin your wild adventure is at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds. Here, visitors will find about 245 acres where elk spotting is prime.

At the center, travelers will find a 4-D theater where one can learn the history of the animals and take a journey with them. There are three easily accessible trails that allow for viewing. A 45-minute guided tour on a horse-drawn wagon is available that takes visitors throughout the acres. Check experienceelkcountry.com for hours in each season. Also, on the website visitors can view the live elk camera and shop at the online store.

Benezette is on State Route 555. It is a small town with just a few more than 200 residents. It is a beautiful area, quiet and filled with wildlife. As you wander around town you might catch a look at the elk doing the same. Enjoy the scenery as you experience the town and outlying area, but keep your eyes on the road as the elk enjoy sharing it with motorists.

Visitors are asked to not stop on the roadway and to respect private property during their elk adventure.

While traveling the backroads of the countryside, I found elk grazing on the green grass, not only at the viewing areas but in the yards of many homes. In some areas there are parking lots from which visitors can walk to view the elk in a meadow or on a hillside. Not far from the visitors center is the Dents Run Elk viewing area. Here elk watchers can overlook four fields and a wooded area where the elk spend a lot of time. Ask for a map at the visitor’s center to find areas to view the scenic countryside and elk.

If possible, take this adventure on a weekday. It is a lot less crowded.

Some tips on viewing the magnificent elk:

• The best time to see them is an hour or two after dawn or before dusk.
• Give them space, at least 100 yards. This is for your safety. Do not approach for photographs or to pet them. It is unlawful to feed elk. • Leave your pets at home, for their safety and yours.
• Even though they are around residential areas, the elk are wild animals and can be unpredictable when it comes to behavior.

Benezette offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities that include biking, hiking and camping. The village is on the 127-mile Elk Scenic Drive, which takes visitors through some of the Pennsylvania Wilds — beautiful yet rugged countryside. It offers many stops for wildlife viewing. Benezette has charming shops, bed and breakfasts, and plenty of history.

For information on places to stay go to visitpa.com.

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