Photo Destination: the Elk of Northern PA
Did you know that Pennsylvania is home to the largest free-roaming elk herd in the northeastern United States? About 4 hours drive from Allentown, the herd primarily roams in Elk, Cameron, and Clinton Counties in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
The PA Wilds is an enormous 12-county region in North Central PA. It's home to the Allegheny National Forest, and is a spectacular destination for outdoor photographers. It has more public land to explore than Yellowstone National Park at over 2.1 million acres. And the fall mating season is the perfect time of year for elk viewing.
all photos in this article courtesy of Dan's staff member Steve M.
The best places to photograph are state game lands 311 at the bottom of Dewey Road and off Porcupine Road. Check this map from the PA Game Commission for info. There's small parking lot along Porcupine road (map location 22). A larger dirt parking lot is at the bottom of Dewey Road (map location 14). Other locations that require less walking from your car are the Hicks Run viewing area and the Elk Country Visitor center above the town of Benezette. Here's a map of the Elk state forest and State Game lands 311 areas closest to the town of Benezette to help choose your spot. Any large open food plots draw in elk to feed and breed and can be great places to visit during the fall. Be cautious of rattlesnakes!
The best time to go is from late September through the first week of October for peak activity due to the breeding season, but good photo opportunties are available until the end of October. Plan to photograph from sunrise until about 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and again from 5:00 p.m. until sunset. Plan to photograph macro or landscapes during the day as the elk are not usually active unless its rainy or very overcast.
Considerations for getting there
If you plan to go, you can stay in Saint Marys, Dubois, Clearfield, Renovo and Emporium. There's also places to stay in Benezette, Medix Run, but they're likely to be reserved at this time of year. Camping Permits can be obtained for several state forest camping areas, contact either the Elk State (814-486-3353) or Moshannon (814-765-0821) Forest Offices for more details on primitive camping.
Cell service is limited to towns mentioned in places to stay and near the viewing area at Dewey road above the town of Benezette.
What to look for
You can see elk, bear, deer, bobcat, coyote and rattlesnakes, but the real stars this time of year are the elk.
There's also a lot of great hikes in the area. The Fred Woods Trail features unique boulder outcrops, Elk Trail takes you through deep woods and pretty streams with a chance to see elk in a deep forest habitat, and a drive up to Bucktail Overlook is excellent for sunrises or stargazing. Jerry Run and Johnson Run are remote areas best visted by SUV that contain 300+ year old old growth trees and very few people.
Gear to bring
Your best bet for lenses would be 400mm or longer, as its very large open country. Choose a camera that's good at high ISO and plan to shoot ISO 640 — 25,600 most of the time for the elk. Check our rental department for options to help you get great photos! You should also pack a sturdy tripod, and a polarizer for landscapes.
— Steve M. is a photo equipment specialist at Dan's and an avid photographer. He's got a particular skill for wildlife and landscape photography, and also enjoys riding across those landscapes on his mountain bike.
If you take the trip, don't forget to share your photos with us on Facebook or Instagram! We'd love to see what you get.