As the largest species of mammal currently found in Arkansas, Elk is one of the state's most sought-after species of wildlife in Arkansas, both for viewing and photography.
Elk once lived throughout much of the U.S., but shrinking elk habitat and over-hunting reduced them to a few herds in the nation's western, mountainous regions. The Eastern Elk (Cervus elaphus Canadensis), the subspecies native to Arkansas, became extinct in the late 1800's. In 1933, the U.S. Forest Service restocked Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) into Franklin County and the herd persisted into the mid-1950's before disappearing.
Between 1981 and 1985, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission released 112 Western Elk in Newton County near the Buffalo National River. Though Elk in Arkansas have subsequently been observed in 14 counties, most of the estimated 450 to 500 members of the species now believed to inhabit the state occur in Newton and Searcy Counties on National Park Service land along the Buffalo's upper and middle sections. The commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and private interests are all engaged in efforts to maintain and expand suitable elk habitat within Arkansas.
The most reliable place to view elk in Arkansas is the Buffalo National River, a National Park Service site and prime elk habitat. They can commonly be seen in Boxley Valley along Ark. 43 and Ark. 21 and are often observed in the vicinity of the Erbie campground. Elk in Arkansas may also be seen along roads leading east and west from the Ark. 7 bridge at Pruitt and in fields near the Ark. 123 bridge at Carver.
Elk habitat enhancement in the 18,220-acre Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission site that borders the southern edge of the national river, has improved the chance of seeing elk in the wild grazing in fields there. A descriptive narrative on the site and a map are available online (both in .pdf format) from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
PLEASE NOTE: When viewing Elk and other wildlife be respectful of private property and do not trespass. View our wildlife ethics and tips page before you go exploring.
Elk information and a Buffalo National River brochure with map are available year-round at the National Park Service's Tyler Bend Visitor Center located 11 miles north of Marshall via on U.S. 65 and from March to September at the Pruitt Ranger Station located five miles north of Jasper on Ark. 7. Due to varying office hours, you will need to phone the ranger station before your visit at 870-446-5373.
Information and exhibits on Elk in Arkansas and other Natural State wildlife are available at the Ponca Elk Education Center, (870- 861-2432) an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission interpretive center, located across from the U.S. Post Office on Ark. 43 in Ponca, and the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum and Elk Information Center ( 870-446-6180), located on Ark. 7 about a half-mile north of Jasper.