Elk once freely roamed the southern Appalachians and were hunted by Native Americans for meat and medicinal uses. Elk herds resided in Kentucky until the mid-1880s “when the population was eliminated due to habitat degradation and overhunting,” reports the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife. By 1900, hunters and conservationists were concerned all species of North American elk were headed for extinction.
Fast forward almost a century and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife is pleased to report the success of the 1997 Elk Restoration Program, which started with 1,550 elk from six states, thanks to due diligence by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, University of Kentucky students and cooperative landowners. By 2001 the elk population was more than 5,000, and The Kentucky elk population grew to at least 10,000 in 2013.
The elk restoration zone covers 16 southeast Kentucky counties with the majority settled in Knott County, which has claimed “Elk Capital of the East.”
One excellent way to see these magnificent land mammals is to take an organized tour with a knowledgeable guide who can provide a ton of elk info. Be sure to call for details of elk
viewing tours from these eastern Kentucky state resort parks: Jenny Wiley State Resort Park
in Prestonsburg (606) 889-1790 and (800) 325-0142 and Buckhorn State Resort Park
in Buckhorn (606) 398-7510 or (800) 325-0058.
For a do-it-yourself tour, print out a map, compliments of Knott County Adventure
and follow the directions. Although elk can be found all year long, they tend to be more visible in the early fall, winter and early spring–especially at dawn and dusk.
Other popular places to go in Kentucky for elk viewing include:
- Mine Made Paradise Park in Hindman, Popular elk spotting areas are located near the ATV training Center and campground or along Elk View Drive
- Hazard/Perry County also has a viewing station that is open year round but autumn is the best time to view the elk and hear the bugling at Jewel Ridge Mountain.
- South Fork Elk Viewing Station in Jackson, Breathitt County, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, is home to the largest herd of elk in Kentucky
- Boone Forestlands Wildlife Management Area (formerly known as the Begley Wildlife Management Area) covers three counties; its meadows and forests attract elk
- Elk and Bison Prairie, Land Between the Lake National Recreation Area at Golden Pond is a 700-acre restoration project in progress
Annual Elk Events Held in Kentucky:
- Elk Hunting Season, Quota and Lottery, late Sept through mid-Jan.
- Winter Elk Watches, Buckhorn Lake State Park, January
- Elk and Bison Day Dinner, Kentucky Dam Village State Park, February
- Elk and Bison Buffet and Artist Showcase, Gilbertsville, February
- Frontier Night, Pine Mountain State Resort Park in Pineville, March: Menu includes elk stew, buffalo chili, buffalo meatloaf, rabbit, catfish…