What makes it amazing are those volunteers who work there who take great care of elks and visitors! Thank you for your great work!
When we went for the first time in late January, there was no elk at all. We were disappointed. Sharon, one of the amazing volunteers there told us elks were in the hills when the weather was not bad. She said the entire hills in the wild life area is elk’s buffet. Elks only come down to be fed when they can not access to the grass on hills (since they are not lazy at all). That means, when it snows, hundreds of elks would come down to be fed since they can not access to the natural buffet!
Sharon suggested me to call before visiting. We took a picture of the phone number and visitor tour time. The visitor center phone number is 509-698-5106.
Also, please don’t forget your discovery pass since it is a state park area.
Dogs are required to stay in car according to signs posted in the parking lot. No dogs allowed to be outside the car since it is “Elk” feeding ground (not dog feeding ground). Also elks are extremely skittish. They ran away even when people talk in high voice (Dear elk, are you aware that people are relatively small compare to you guys?)
In February, a severe winter storm stroke Washington. At 8am, we decided to call and see if elks were there before we drive 2 hours to Yakima. Anyway, I just called and left a message since I did not expect the tourist center was open at 8am. A lady called back at 8:30 am (I was surprised!) and told us there were 900 elks there already hanging out on the feeding ground.
She told me the elk feeding is at 1:30 pm, but close by there is a big horn sheep feeding ground. Big horn sheep feeding is at 10:30 am. So you can visit big horn sheep feeding before the elk feeding.
If you are from Seattle area and don’t know about Yakima area weather just like me, please check the weather and temperature before you go. I was very glad the lady told me to bring a ski jacket since it was freezing to death for Seattle area people like me (about 20s degree Fahrenheit). Also please wear a snow boots since there were a lot of snow/ice on the parking lot.
The reserved land is closed to outside cars in winter and spring ( to avoid people bother elks in difficult times). During this period of time, truck tours are offered to take tourists into the reserved area. Truck tour reservation has to be done one day before, but there are always chances to standby and get on the truck to see elks in short distances.
Our drive from Bellevue was surprising pleasant and beautiful! I-90 was re-opened the day before, and the road was all cleared up. Usually when we went to Yakima, we see yellow brown hills on our drive to there. But this time, these brown hills turn white because of snow carpet.
When we arrived the elk feeding ground, we ran right into the visitor center to sign up the truck tour. The line to sign up the truck tour was very long, but volunteers quickly took down everyone’s name and told us about the waiting time. There were one truck ahead of us, so the wait time was about 20 minutes.
The volunteer took down my cellphone number, so Ryan went away to play in snow. Being extremely hungry (there is no food service nearby) I went to my car and ate my avocado in my car for lunch. Suddenly I realized that, my cellphone usually does not get signal in this kind of remote area! I could not reach Ryan since there was no signal, and I saw the volunteer who took our name down was at the truck tour entrance. I ran to him and asked if that was our truck to board. He laughed and said, “I was looking for you since you wear pink jacket and easy to recognize! Yes, this is our truck! We called you but the call went to the voicemail.”
Lesson learned, don’t walk out of the tour center while you wait for your truck unless your phone has signal. If it were not for my pink jacket, I would have missed my truck.
The truck drove into the herd, but elks were very skittish and split out for trucks. It is really fun to be in between herds of elks. The volunteer in our truck happened to be Sharon again! She explained how elks society work, and told us usually male and female elks don’t mingle together like what we see now.
According to Sharon, 80% female elks are pregnant at the time when we visit. They will give birth in spring.
We saw elks running down from the top of the hill since they know that the feeding time is near.
At 1:30pm, the feeding truck finally came out! It drove through herds of elks and dropped huge piles of hay every 10 feet or so. Hungry elks rushed to hay and started eating. In the very first 20 minutes, we heard young elks crying for moms. We realized that mommy elks rushed to food without taking their babies. It was very funny to watch fawns crying and walking around and trying to find their moms.
After 30 minutes, I guess elks were getting “sugar high”. They started to fight and bully each other even though there were more than enough food left. Sharon said that she saw female elks acted like drunken ladies in the bar. She was right. We saw drunken ladies shaking their heads and bully bulls pinched other using their giant antlers. Probably after elks were full, they started to act like human beings ;p
We stood in the freezing air for about 1 hour watching elks eating. It was so much fun that I forgot my feet were frozen. I should have worn my snow boots 😦
Oh, since you have the patient to finish reading this article, I want to share with you a secret: On May 1st each year, the reserved land will be open at 6am for visitors to drive in. According to Sharon, all beautiful antlers you see in this winter trip will be shed somewhere in the hills. Yes, that means, at 6 am on May 1st, you can drive in to hunt these antlers and take them home for free! Well, it is not exactly a secret since it is well-known for the local people according to Sharon. There will be huge lines of cars to wait to get in before 6am. In case if you are interested in hunting for one, good luck to you!
It was well-worth the trip since I have never seen hundreds of elks all together at once. I hope you will enjoy your trip as well!