Watching and photographing Ponca's herds of majestic Rocky Mountain Elk is one of the finest wildlife experiences you can have not just in Arkansas, but anywhere! The elk are reliably viewable almost year 'round, especially in the fall, winter and spring. Fall is especially a great time to elk watch as the bulls go into mating season form, bugling and battling for herd domination right before your eyes! Only in summer do we see only a few here and there as high temperatures and juicy tree leaves (a favorite meal) keep them hidden in the forest shadows.
Elk tend to feed in the fields that lie along the Buffalo National River between Ponca and Boxley, just after sunrise and then again in the late afternoon. To find them, simply drive from Ponca down Hwy 43 to the south, keeping an eye on the fields on the east side of the road (watch for traffic, too!). Elk can be anywhere from the Ponca access to the trailhead for the Buffalo River Trail on Hwy 21, about a 7-mile range.
Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced here a few years ago to replace the somewhat smaller Eastern Elk that had been hunted into extinction. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission exchanged smallmouth bass for elk with Colorado. Today the Buffalo National River has elk ranging throughout its length and a herd population of more than 700 animals.
Be sure to visit the Elk Education Center across the street from the BOC store. It's a free exhibit and one worth stopping in to see, especially if you have children along. The center is sponsored and staffed by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.