October is my favorite month of the year, when the leaves begin to change, pumpkin spice seems to become the favorite condiment and the weather has a crisp cool to the air in the evening but there is still a possibility for an 80° afternoon. It has always been a time to load in the car for a leaf ride and for a great road trip this month I want to point you in the eastern direction of Benezette, Pa.
The trip over is amazing and there are multiple ways to get there. For a scenic ride through the Allegheny Mountains head through Warren County and down towards St Marys (this route takes 3 hours and 45 mins to complete) for a more direct route you can travel I 79 to I 80 and it will shave off an hour. I go down via the scenic route and come back in the evening the quicker route.
Many people may not know this but elk are native to Pennsylvania and used to roam freely in herds. However in the mid 1800s that all changed due to a lack of hunting regulations and habitat loss. In 1913 elk were reintroduced to the area by the Pa Game commission and through their efforts as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance and other private organizations the elk herd is now nearly 1,400 animals strong.
One of the very best times to see the elk is during the rut, which happens in September and October every year. The rut is the time of year that the big bull elk fight each other for the right to have a harem. A harem is a group of female elk (also known as cows) and the bulls will fight for the right to mate. This is the time of year you will see sparring and hear the bugling and antler crashing sounds throughout the valleys. The elk are most active in the early dawn and dusk so about two hours before dark is when you are most likely to see them. If you can not make the trip this fall, mark your calendar for the spring and you will likely see the calves romping and playing in the meadows.
The very first time I went to Benezette was a solo trip and I ended up leaving our area in the late afternoon. I did not know what to really expect so I didn’t give a whole lot of time for the excursion. I saw my first elk as it ran across the road in front of the compact car in front of me. It was a female and she just kind of sauntered across the road, luckily the car had stopped to allow her to cross, and just when they were getting ready to start moving a very large bull elk ran full bore after her and I watched him jump over the hood of the small car. It was impressive to see the size comparison of the vehicle and the animal.
There is a beautiful visitor center with a fantastic movie that is worth every penny of the $5 they charge to view it. The center also has a great display of the history of the herd as well as a gift store to purchase a variety of items including elk jerky and summer sausage. While you are there pick up an elk viewing map (I had zero cell service in the area so don’t rely on google maps).
For a great dinner option check out the Benezette Hotel for an elk burger, or Elk Life for an ice cream or fresh mini donut treat. Make sure you have binoculars or a spotting scope for the best viewing options and pick your spot to watch before 7 pm or so and be ready for a show. Now be aware that the elk do not always get the memo that they are supposed to be at the viewing areas. I absolutely had my closest experiences seeing them just on the side of the road. In fact on the return trip the area I chose to place my GoPro on the dash just in case and was able to capture the moment the extremely large bull crossed right in my path.
My best advice, is to leave in the early morning and get there in time to see all the cool things the area has to offer but to also leave enough time to not be rushed and pick your viewing location. Watch carefully as you drive, and remember that the elk may wander but they are not lost.
As seen in the Meadville Tribune October 5, 2020