Since I discovered it was a thing, it was on my bucket list: hearing the bull elk bugle during rutting season.
I'd visited Clearfield County a couple times already and had seen a herd of elk cows and calves grazing in a meadow -- and yes, that was an amazing thing, in and of itself. Elk for us suburbanites, are a rarity.
Even black bears are more common than elk on the East Coast, unless, of course, you live near Elk Country.
A return visit to Clearfield County was planned around the elk. During the visit, I went several times up to the Elk Country Visitors Center, to see and hear them bugle.
Have I said it was amazing? I mean, goosebumps on the arms amazing. It's a cool noise.
And how ironic that local residents view the elk, and the visitors who come to see them, as nuisances -- probably the way we view the deer that annually nibble our hosta and petunias down to little sad nubs. But after having visited, I understand: cars pulled off on the sides of roads to view the beasts, or worse, just stopped in the middle of the road to gawk.
Thus, we're reminded that as visitors and tourists: we should bring more good than bad to those who live year round in Benezette, PA: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps and our dollars at local inns, hotels, boutiques and restaurants.
There are several viewing areas, but stop first at the Elk Country Visitors Center. Check out the exhibits, get the information about the elk and learn why they're so rare -- and learn about efforts to restore the herd. Then consider checking out the Winslow Hill Viewing Area, or continuing along the road to other viewing areas where elk are commonly seen.
Tips for your visit:
- Go early and go often. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing and listening times. Of course, it's less crowded in the morning, but still a surprising number of folks were there.
- If you're headed up there at dusk, head up around 4:30 to 5 p.m. to grab a parking spot, but plan to stay a couple hours.
- Wear jackets and bring gloves. Even on a warmish day, it gets chilly quickly as the sun goes down. Dress for the weather.
- Wear sensible shoes. You'll be standing for a bit, waiting for them to come within sight (you'll hear them before you see them).
- Elk are wild animals and with (or without) a full set of antlers, can be dangerous. Oh yeah, and they're big, so they've got the Law of Tonnage working on their side. Follow the directions of the visitors center staff, give these wild animals space, and don't get too close.
What to do while you're not viewing the elk? For a place "halfway to everywhere" but not really NEAR anywhere else, there's an impressive variety of things to do. For an overview of all there is to see and do there, click here or for more details about planning your stay, including where to eat, click here.
- Check out some local wineries
- Check out local history and discover Clearfield's link to the Civil War
- Go for a hike at Parker Dam State Park
- Go kayaking at a local lake or book a short excursion down the West Branch Susquehanna River
- Go biking along a really nice rail trail
- If you like historic cars, then the Grice Museum is for you. Or, if you like taxidermy, then the Grice Museum is for you. There're both there, and plenty of it!
Getting there: Elk Country Visitors Center is located at 134 Homestead Drive, Benezette, PA; Winslow Hill Viewing Area is located at 2313 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette, PA.
Hours: Elk Country Visitors Center is open Thursday thru Monday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.