One thing I love about camping and exploring parks are the opportunities for viewing wildlife. Growing up in the suburbs, wild animals weren’t really around. I visited plenty of farms and zoos as a kid, but never saw animals in their natural habitat, aside from an occasional duck or squirrel. Now that we’ve been to so many state and national parks, it amazes me how many opportunities there really are to see animals in the wild. One great opportunity in Kentucky for such an experience is and elk tour at Jenny Wiley State Park.
After nearly 150 years of being absent, the state re-introduced elk into the park in 1997. They’ve done so well that the park boasts the largest free roaming herd in this half of the country. In both fall and spring seasons, the Jenny Wiley State Park hosts Elk Viewing Tours, offering visitors a chance to witness these amazing animals from a safe distance.
The trip may vary slightly depending on the year. For instance this past spring the park offered a morning van tour and continental breakfast. At the time of our visit we selected an option for an evening bus tour with a boxed dinner beforehand. Whichever time of day you go though, it’s sure to make for some special memories.
To start our tour, we met in the lobby of the park lodge. After a brief rundown of how the tour would operate and a chance to enjoy our light dinner (sandwiches, granola bars, soda), the group headed out to one of the park’s buses.
The number of different areas visited on the tour surprised me. I expected the bus to drive to common areas within the park. Instead we headed out to a nearby airfield as well as some reclaimed mining areas.
At each location, the bus would pull over and allow the group to watch and take photos of the elk. If safe, the park naturalist allowed us to leave the bus for even better viewing. It was surprising to me how many elk we were able to see. I had hoped for at least a few during the tour, but we were delighted finding small herds at different locations. If wanting to take photos, I would definitely recommend a camera lens with some reach. In order to not disturb the elk, visitors have to stay back some distance.
Along the drive and at the various stops the park naturalist also shared the fascinating history about surface mining and elk restoration in the area. We learned a lot about these majestic animals and it was amazing to have the opportunity to see them out in the wild.
Having spent my childhood in Kentucky I really enjoyed finding this unexpected experience in my home state. This elk tour inspired me to search for other unique opportunities offered by state parks. I hope it inspires you also as your plan your next adventure!
Jenny Wiley State Park
75 Theatre Court, Prestonburg, KY 41653