Monday, October 15, 2012

Visiting the Elk In Benezette

 The post below is from 2012.  We made the trip again, with friends, in October of 2014.  We didn't see nearly as many elk this time, but we did see a lot of them.  Again, winslow hill and around town near the hotel, on the way to the visitors area, were the best viewing areas.  Again, just watch for people and cars - where they are gathered, the elk are usually nearby.  :-)  All the pics from our 2014 trip are here:

Using a 75/300 lens - Yes, we were pretty close to this guy!

This past week-end we drove to Benezette to see the elk.  I've wanted to do this for years, but it's over 2 hours away, and I was afraid we'd drive that far, and not see any...  I don't like sitting in a car.  The night before we left, I was still considering just spending the day at home working on genealogy instead..  but Dan convinced me it was too nice, and too pretty out, to sit indoors. I planned a couple of hikes, and we took the bikes along, so even if we didn't see any elk, we'd still have a nice day.

I spent HOURS planning this trip.  I downloaded and elk viewing guide with a companion map from here: http://paelk.com/  I searched forums, I created my own google map with all the areas reported to be best for viewing them...

I wasted my time.  We did not see any elk at the viewing areas along the Quehanna hwy.  Headed towards the visitors center, about 4 miles away, there were a bunch of cars pulled over on the side of the road, and people standing out with cameras.  We pulled over, and saw this guy above, our first "wild" elk sighting.  He was at someone's house.  

A woman stopped there told us just to follow the traffic - she could have saved me hours of planning had I talked to her earlier in the week.  About a mile down the road we saw more cars pulled over, and that is where we got to see this guy.  
And these too.
I don't know that it is always this easy to see elk in Benezette, but apparently for the 6 or so weeks of rut season in September and October, it is pretty hard to not see them.  Lots of people must know this, because the entire area is swamped with tourists.  It still manages to keep a very rural feel around here..  there is no cell phone reception, few stores, no chain restaurants or stores...  just a lot of cars along side the road.  :-)

From there, we just kept heading towards the visitors center.  The Center was so nice, but SO crowded, we didn't stay long.  There is a 4D show looked interesting, but it was not worth waiting in that crowd.. I was more interested in seeing more elk.

At this point we thought we were at Winslow Hill - there are signs for the Winslow Hill viewing area, and we mistakenly thought this was it.  There are posted signs on the trees down the road from where we parked, and a police officer was ticketing everyone parked alongside the road by those trees. We saw a LOT of policemen and DNCR rangers. Be careful where you park.

Still following traffic  heading towards Winslow Hill (although at this point we thought we had already been to Winslow hill...)
 This guy was nice enough to graze near a parking lot for a restaurant that was closed.  We parked in their parking lot to watch him for a bit.
Eventually I think he got tired of getting his photo taken, there was quite a crowd here, and he wandered off into the woods.
This is marked as a "must see" in rut season area, on my map.  There is an official parking area nearby, but we didn't see any elk from the viewing area..  instead we parked and walked down the hill and to the left, where we saw lots of cars and people.  This field was full of elk!

Following the road on down the hill, there were so many cars..  we left our car in the designated parking, and walked down.  It was a short distance.  Here is where we got to hear the elk bugling for the first time.  Very cool!  There were elk on both sides of the road here.  Above is one side, below is the other.
On this side of the road was a house, the elk were walking right up to the house.  The people were parking right in their driveway.  I imagine the people are much more annoying than the elk.  We watched one man drive into the ditch beside their driveway, putting one of his rear wheels up in the air. Thankfully he had 4 wheel drive and was able to get himself back out.  These elk were obviously trying to get to the elk on the other side of the road, but there were too many cars lining both sides of the road.

I was really surprised by how easy it was to see these guys.  I don't know that it is this easy the rest of the year, but during rut season, it was almost like visiting a wildlife park where the viewing was guaranteed.

A few tips:
There is NO cell service around here.  
Bathrooms are few and far between. A few of the designated viewing areas, and the visitors center.  Hoover Viewing Area on the Quehanna Hwy had the nicest ones outdoor ones - but they are all nonflush, mostly porta potties.
Elk are most likely to be seen around sunrise and sunset 
Elk do not like heat and are not often out in the middle of the day
If you can, make the trip midweek in Sept or Oct - there will be less people than on a weekend.



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