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Visiting the Elk County Visitor Center in Benezette, Pennsylvania.

Discovering Pennsylvania’s Elk Herd at the Elk Country Visitor Center

When I first started uncovering the many great things to see and do in Pennsylvania, I was surprised to learn that the state was home to the largest elk herd east of the Rockies. Truth be told, I was even surprised that there were elk this far east.

However, before European settlers came to the Americas, elk herds roamed across much of the east coast. As more and more settlers pushed west, the number of elk diminished. By the 1870s, there were no elk left in Pennsylvania.

Between 1913 and 1926, in an effort to rebuild the elk population in Pennsylvania, 177 elk were released in 10 different Pennsylvania counties. Over the coming years, the elk population would decline to a low of less than 50. However, proper management of the species has resulted in an estimated population of over 800 in 2013.

Visiting the Elk County Visitor Center in Benezette, Pennsylvania.

The Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette.

While these elk are part of a different sub-species than those that used to roam the state, they have been so successful in their reintroduction that they are now a tourist attraction in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Wanting to learn about the herd and hopefully see some elk for myself, I took a trip to the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette. The Elk Country Visitor Center isn’t your normal county visitor center. Sure, you can pick up brochures here for many of the attractions in the area, but this visitor center is actually a tourist attraction by itself.

Sitting on a hill above the small town of Benezette, the Elk Country Visitor Center sits in the heart of elk country. It is not at all uncommon to see elk meandering around the grounds of the visitor center, thanks in part to the food plots and favorable habitat. The grounds of the visitor center also have several trails that meander through the surrounding area that provide great vantage points for viewing the elk as they graze in pastures.

Inside the Elk Country Visitor Center, there is small museum filled with information on the elk herd, as well as several taxidermied animals. The museum is definitely geared toward hands-on activities for kids, but it still provided me with great information about the history of elk in Pennsylvania.

An elk viewing area near the Elk County Visitor center.

An elk viewing area near the visitor center.

The visitor center also offers a 4D theater and carriage rides for those interested, for a small fee.There is also a gift shop. Should all your elk viewing leave you a little famished, the elk jerky in the gift shop is definitely an amusing choice.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a zoo and you’re dealing with wild animals. Therefore, it’s entirely possible that you might not see any elk at the Elk Country Visitor Center. That, unfortunately, was my experience.

Hoping to improve my luck, I set out to visit two other viewing areas that the visitor center maintains. Both perched on top of a hillside, they offer a great vantage point to see elk roaming below. Unfortunately, though, I struck out there as well.

Fortunately, I had spent some time the day before in the small town of Benezette. Outside of the small, but excellent, Benezette Wines, there isn’t much to see and do in the town itself. However, the local elk do frequent the town’s backyards, and I was lucky to see several elk roaming freely among the homes of the community.

An elk roams near Saint Marys in Elk County.

An elk roams near Saint Marys in Elk Country.

It’s also worth noting that, while the area around Benezette is widely considered to be the best for elk viewing, the elk do roam throughout much of the Pennsylvania Wilds and surrounding area, so you never know where you will find an elk during your travels. In fact, while still relatively close, I had my best elk encounter along a quiet road close to downtown Saint Marys.

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    All in all, a visit to Benezette, the Elk Country Visitor Center, and the rest of Pennsylvania’s elk region is a fantastic way to learn more about these beautiful animals. And, while there are no guarantees, your odds of seeing several of these beautiful animals is highly likely.

    When to visit the Elk Country Visitor Center

    If you do visit, the best time to view elk is during dawn or dusk, though it’s possible to see them at any time of the day. Many like to visit in the early fall to see the bull elk with their full antlers, however, anytime during spring or summer can offer great chances to see elk. Viewing elk during the winter months is possible, but they are often hunkering down to stay warm, and viewing them can be a bit more difficult.


    Elk Country Visitor Center

    Hours: Vary. See website.

    Cost: Free

    Website: ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com

    Address: 134 Homestead Drive
    Benezette, PA 15821

    See map below for other area attractions.



    AUTHOR - Jim Cheney

    Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited all 67 counties in the state. Jim has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.

    5 Comments

    • DT Dave

      Jim, the correct name is the Elk Country Visitor Center. http://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com/drupal/

      • Jim Cheney

        Whoops! So it is. Thanks for letting me know, Dave. I’ve made the necessary changes.

    • Edith Gonzalez

      We have visited here often and found that early morning are good and another time we had good luck was in the summer on a misty day and they were grazing along the road on rt. 879 near the Bennette Resturant and we saw a whole heard at the museum. They were grazing out back of the museum. We don’t always see them but we have found that on a cloudy day we have had better luck.

    • steve

      when is atv run ?

    • Kathy Davis

      We were just there several weeks ago. We saw a herd outside the museum and also in a few backyards in Benezette. It’s beautiful country up there.

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