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Northwest Boxley Ponca
Northwest Travel 3

Arkansas Elk Viewing 101


The fall and winter are some of the best times to see the elk in Arkansas. Knowing where to go and what to do when you get there can be a bit confusing. This guide to viewing the Arkansas Elk will teach you everything you need to know to have a great elk-viewing trip.

Eastern elk were once native to Arkansas but disappeared from Arkansas by the mid-1800s and were considered extinct by the 1870s. An initial reintroduction of elk began in the 1930s but ultimately failed. A second attempt began in 1981 when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission transferred 112 Rocky Mountain elk into the area. Today, the Arkansas elk herd numbers have climbed to nearly 900.

I have a confession to make. I traveled out of state to see elk before seeing the elk that live in Arkansas. I had several friends who made the trip to Ponca only to be disappointed when they didn’t see any elk. I was wary, and as any parent can tell you, taking a four-hour trip with a 4-year-old needs to yield something spectacular.

Arkansas Elk Viewing

Our trip was short but well planned, thanks to some great tips from friends and locals. We spent the weekend in Jasper and made the short drive to Ponca in both the morning and the evening to give us plenty of opportunities to see the elk. Our morning trip was a bust, but that evening, we ended up seeing six elk, including two bulls with impressive antlers. With any luck, you can have similar results, or perhaps you’ll luck into seeing a large herd.

Arkansas Elk Viewing

Where to Go

If you’re interested in viewing the elk, there are three locations in the Buffalo National River area to do so.

  • Boxley Valley – Boxley Valley is along Highway 43 and Highway 21. Drive south on 43 from Ponca. The land is mostly private, but it is one of the prime spots to view the elk. If you decide to stop, pull off the road entirely, use caution, and don’t block traffic or private drives. Watch for elk crossing the road.
  • Erbie Campground – One of the largest campgrounds in the Buffalo National River area also boasts views of the elk. Erbie is a few miles south of Jasper along Highway 7.
  • Carver Bridge – Take Highway 123 south of Hasty until you reach the bridge. Elk can often be seen from the road, especially in the early morning or late afternoon and evening.

Elk Viewing 101

  • Choose the Right Time of Day – The best time for viewing the elk is at dawn and dusk. Arrive early so you are in place when they begin to emerge from the tree cover. If you are lucky, you may even hear some bugling.
  • Choose the Right Time of Year – The elk remain in the same general area all year long, and it is possible to see them during all four seasons. The annual rut runs roughly from late September through mid-November; therefore, elk activity may heighten during that time. However, once the leaves have fallen off the trees, visibility is improved. In short, there is no wrong time of the year.
  • Choose the Right Moon Phase – On bright, clear nights when the moon is full, elk are more likely to feed throughout the night and may come out or bed down earlier than expected. Conversely, they may be more eager to feed during the day when the moon is new, and it’s more challenging to spot predators during the night.
  • Choose the Right Weather – Cloudy days, just before a storm, will bring more elk out to feed before they bed down to ride out the weather.
  • Choose the Right Location – Some people prefer to stay in one location and wait for the elk, while others prefer to drive along the main road in hopes of spotting a herd.
  • Bring The Right Gear – Bring a good camera with a zoom lens if you want to take pictures. You should also have snacks and water on hand, as well as weather-appropriate clothing.
  • Be Flexible – Elk are wild animals and aren’t on our schedule. You will need to be flexible and prepared that you may not see any elk.

Elk-Viewing Safety Tips

  • Be Aware of Pedestrians and Traffic – There will be many people in the area for elk viewing. Keep your eyes on the road and watch for pedestrians crossing or cars stopping unexpectedly.
  • Stay Away From Elk – Elk are wild animals and can be extremely dangerous. Never approach an elk and always stay a minimum of 150 feet away.
  • Don’t Feed the Elk – The elk have enough natural resources for food, and feeding can lead to problems in the herd.

What To Do When the Elk Aren’t Out

During the day, the elk retreat to the woods, primarily along the Buffalo National River, to rest and stay cool. The river also attracts many people to the area, and hiking trails and floating opportunities abound. If your efforts to view the elk don’t pay off, there is still plenty to do in the area.

Lost Valley Trail
Twin (Triple) Falls (Take an AWD vehicle to the trailhead.)
Whitaker Point

Floating (Seasonal)
Buffalo Outdoor Center
Lost Valley Canoe
Buffalo River Canoes

Ponca Nature Center

From the National Park Service:
Do not stop your car or stand in the middle of the state highway. Do not park on private property, including local residents’ driveways. Do not cross fences or open gates that don’t belong to you. Please practice #LeaveNoTrace Principle #6 – Respect Wildlife – and Principle #7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

If you haven’t gone to see the elk, there is no better time than right now! Share your best tips in the comments so we can add them to our list.

Photos courtesy of Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and teaches art part-time at a local private school. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas where they raise chickens, farm hay and bake bread. Julie loves adventure and sharing it with her husband and son. They frequent the trails, campgrounds and parks of Arkansas, always on the hunt for new adventures and new stories to share. Learn more on her blog Seek Adventures Media.

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3 responses to “Arkansas Elk Viewing 101”

  1. […] spent a weekend in Jasper where we stayed at The Arkansas House and traveled to Ponca for some elk viewing. Knowing we needed to do something else to fill our days, I began researching some of the local […]

  2. […] Valley | Ponca – premier elk viewing area in spring and […]

  3. […] The upper district contains the Buffalo National River headwaters and some of the most rugged and remote terrain of the entire wilderness area. Boxley Valley, Ponca and Jasper are also among the most visited sites, thanks to the beautiful hiking trails and the opportunity to view the elk. […]

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