Elk Country Visitor Center near Benezette in central Pennsylvania helps visitors experience elk in the wild.
“The Elk Country Visitor Center is a world-class destination for group travel,” said John A. Straitiff, executive director of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau. “With food plots that attract elk and other wildlife, walking paths and horse-drawn wagon rides through the herd, it is the premier elk-viewing location in Pennsylvania’s wild elk country. The visitor center is a stunningly beautiful building with educational and interactive exhibits nestled in the rugged mountains of Elk County. Their new feature film in the 4D-scenery surround theater take visitors into the middle of the elk herd. More than a half-million people visit it each year.”
The 8,400-square-foot facility was built in 2010 in the heart of Pennsylvania’s elk range to give people the best opportunity to view elk year-round. The nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance operates the center, which is a green building.
“The Elk Country Visitor Center is a singular attraction for all ages,” said Linda Devlin, executive director of the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau. “The indoor movie theater, which deals with the history of the elk population in Pennsylvania, married with the outdoor experience to view elk in the wild, is both memorable and educational.”
Pennsylvania’s free-ranging elk herd ranges between 900 and 1,000 animals, making it the largest elk herd in the northeastern United States.
“The center is on 245 acres,” said Carla Wehler, operations manager. “It gives visitors a chance to get out and see wildlife, and elk viewing is definitely one of our most popular things.”
One of the important facts stressed at the center is that elk are wild animals.
“You need to keep your distance,” Wehler said. “You can’t go up and touch them.”
A diorama in the center presents figures of Pennsylvania wildlife, while in the discovery room, visitors can pick up a set of elk antlers, touch an elk hide, and see the difference between elk and white-tailed deer. The center also offers horse-drawn wagon and sleigh rides.
Admission to the center is free, although there is a charge for the wagon rides and the theater.
Wehler said most operators opt for a catered meal at the center or at the partner restaurant because the center is a bit remote. A cowboy poet and storyteller can be secured to do an after-dinner program about the area, elk and other wildlife.
Tour operators usually plan for at least two hours for a visit — or longer if a meal is involved. •
For more information, call 814-787-5167 or visit elkcountryvisitorcenter.com.