True to fall form, Ponca’s majestic elk herds have been giving visitors to the Boxley Valley plenty of great viewing opportunities lately. We’ve frequently spotted bulls and their herds right along Highway 43, putting elk fans within easy viewing and camera range of these beautiful animals. In this update, we’ve provided a handy printable map of the best places to see the colossal bull elk currently ranging between Ponca and the southern end of the Boxley Valley. But first, you might like to know why fall is such a prime time for elk watching in Ponca, as well as why there are even elk on the Buffalo National River to begin with!
Why is fall optimum elk watching in Ponca?
Because the elk are in love is why!
The fall rut—or mating season—begins in late September, kicking off several weeks of battling and bugling among the massive bulls who establish and lead herds. These battles can be quite intense with bulls locking their impressive racks of antlers, pushing and shoving one another and sometimes thrashing the grass with their antlers in an attempt to intimidate an opponent. The action makes for some fabulous wildlife photography and videography opportunities that you would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles out of state to capture!
Why are there elk in Ponca?
Back in the early 1980’s, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) traded rainbow trout to Colorado Parks & Wildlife for a starter herd of Rocky Mountain Elk. The goal was to replace the smaller Eastern Elk that had been native to the river corridor, but were over-hunted into extinction by the mid-1800’s. This new infusion of larger Rocky Mountain Elk was released several miles downstream of Ponca in the Erbie area of the Buffalo National River. The re-introduction of elk along the Buffalo has been so successful that today’s herd numbers over 800 animals throughout the national park.
Over the years, Ponca has become a favorite hangout for elk due to habitat and the reliable availability of forage (grasses and tree leaves), making it the best place to see elk in all of Buffalo River country. You can learn more about elk in Arkansas in this article by AGFC.
Elk Watching Along Highway 43
The prime place to see elk in Ponca is about as easy as elk-watching gets: you’ll most likely spot them along the 4.5 miles of Highway 43 lying between Ponca and the Highway 21 junction to the south. In the fall, elk tend to feed early mornings and late afternoons in the pastures between the highway and the tree line along the Buffalo National River. This usually makes finding them super simple, as well as convenient to view from your vehicle. You can also carefully park on the road’s shoulder and get out of your car to view these magnificent animals. Please use extreme caution when parking, making sure you don’t block the highway. It’s also a wise elk watcher who stands near the fence line rather than along the road when viewing elk. Be sure to pack binoculars or a spotting scope as the elk aren’t always conveniently near the highway.
Visit an Elk Exhibit in Ponca
No trip to see elk in Ponca is complete without visiting the Arkansas Game & Fish’s Ponca Nature Center. It’s the perfect place for children and grownups alike to learn more about the Buffalo National River’s elk herd. This interpretive center also educates visitors on the Arkansas black bear and other wildlife species to be found in the surrounding Ponca Wilderness. There are hands-on exhibits as well as books, maps and wildlife-themed apparel and toys in the center’s gift shop. The center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, and admission is the best kind—free!
Free Map: Best Places to See Elk in Ponca
And now—that elk viewing location map we promised! This map shows the current locations we’re frequently seeing elk in the Boxley Valley. Click the map to enlarge, share or print! Remember: Elk tend to be most visible in the early morning and late afternoon or early evening. Can’t make it to Ponca this fall? Elk are also reliably visible all winter long, so there’s still time to plan a getaway to Ponca for great elk watching!
Book Your Cabin for Fall Elk Watching
Need a cozy cabin for your elk-watching excursion to Ponca? We still have cabin availability, especially Monday through Thursday when visitor traffic within the national park is more moderate. Whether you’re a couple wanting a romantic cabin with a hot tub or a family cabin with room for all the kids, there’s a Buffalo Outdoor Center cabin that’s just right for you! Have a pet or two? We also offer pet-friendly cabins at BOC!