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Top 25 ‘Conservacation’ Spots for Family Getaways

20090822_RockyMnt_processMISSOULA, Mont.—First came the vacation. Then, the staycation. Now comes a newly coined concept, the conservacation.

It’s a vacation focused on conservation, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is recommending 25 top educational destinations where families can experience and enjoy learning about elk, other wildlife and their habitat.

Elk viewing areas like Rocky Mountain National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park are well known, but RMEF’s list is a compilation of alternative spots.

“With summer upon us and many families thinking about a getaway, we’re pleased to suggest the following locations,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “All of these places are worth a visit any time of year, but some really come to life when elk are rutting or on wintering grounds. That’s when visitors are most likely to see these animals up close and possibly observe a spectacle of nature they’ll never forget—hearing an elk bugle for the first time has inspired many a new conservationist.”

Of course, hearing a turkey gobble, watching a whitetail doe and fawn, and countless other experiences can have the same effect. That’s why RMEF has long provided funding for educational sites and projects across the U.S., in and out of elk country, says Allen.

Elk are present only seasonally at some of the following locations, completely absent in others, so be sure to Google or call each facility for specific wildlife info before traveling. And don’t forget binoculars and camera!

Here are 25 RMEF-recommended spots for your family’s conservacation!


1. Springerville, Ariz.—Sipe White Mountain Visitor Center/Interpretive Trail. Operated by the
Arizona Game and Fish Department. RMEF grant recipient. In 1993, RMEF helped the
agency purchase this 1,362-acre property known for its trophy elk as well as threatened,
endangered and sensitive species. Visitor center, hiking trails, interpretive signage, wildlife
viewing sites, picnic area. Phone: 928-367-4281.


2. Ponca, Ark.—Ponca Elk Education Center. Operated by the Arkansas Game and Fish
Commission. RMEF grant recipient. About 450 elk reside nearby along the Buffalo National
River. Exhibits outline elk history, biology and restoration efforts. Various activities for all
ages, hiking trail, gift shop, picnic facilities. Many kinds of outdoor recreation available.
Phone: 870-861-2432.


3. Crescent City, Calif.—Redwood National Park Elk Meadow Viewing Area. Operated by the
National Park Service. RMEF grant recipient. Roosevelt’s elk are easily observed here
especially south of the Klamath River in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Gold Bluffs
Beach along Bald Hills Road and near Orick, Calif. Phone: 707-464-6101.

4. Tupman, Calif.—
Tule Elk State Reserve. Operated by California Department of Parks and
Recreation. RMEF grant recipient. In 1874, cattleman Henry Miller began efforts to save tule
elk from extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. Today this remnant herd has
expanded on what is now park property. Animals from this herd have been relocated to start
new herds in other areas of California. Interpretive exhibits, picnic areas. Phone:


5. Durango, Colo.—
Durango Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum. Operated by the Colorado
Division of Wildlife. RMEF grant recipient. The hatchery produces rainbow, brown, Snake
River cutthroat, native cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon. Fish feeding, visitor center,
wildlife museum, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife info, mounted specimens, hands-on displays.
Phone: 970-375-6766.

6. Minturn, Colo.—Dowd Junction Elk Viewing Area. Operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
RMEF grant recipient. This lush habitat is winter range for several hundred elk. Good
viewing from U.S. Highway 24. Also visit the viewing area with telescope and platform at the
Holy Cross Ranger District office. Phone: 970-827-5715.


7. Belknap, Ill.—Michael Wolff Memorial Wetland Viewing Area. Managed by the Michael
Wolff Memorial Wetland Foundation. RMEF grant recipient. A tributary of Little Black
Slough, this is rich habitat for migratory waterfowl, neotropical songbirds and wading birds.
Wildlife viewing platform, interpretative signage. Additional attractions nearby including
Cache River State Natural Area. Phone: 618-549-7901.


8. Junction City, Kan.—Milford Nature Center. Operated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife
and Parks. RMEF grant recipient. Activities, dioramas, live animal exhibits, nature trails,
wildlife viewing areas, backyard habitat demonstration area. Picnic facilities and nearby
Milford Fish Hatchery are added attractions. Phone: 785-238-5323.


9. Frankfort, Ky.—Salato Wildlife Education Center. Operated by the Kentucky Department of
Fish and Wildlife Resources. RMEF grant recipient. Dioramas, live reptiles, aquariums,
interactive displays and computer programs. Wheelchair accessible trails allow visitors to see
eagles, bison, bears and natural habitats. Phone: 502-564-7863.

10. Golden Pond, Ky.—Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Operated by the U.S. Forest Service. RMEF grant recipient. Many hands-on learning opportunities, exhibits, hiking trails, nature programs, living history farm, planetarium—and a 700-acre elk prairie. Animals from this herd have been relocated to help establish elk populations elsewhere in the eastern U.S. Phone: 270-924-2000.


11. Holland, Mich.—Outdoor Discovery Center. Operated by the nonprofit Wildlife Unlimited. RMEF grant recipient. Group programs are designed to introduce the wonders of the natural world through live animals exhibits, short hikes, investigations and general nature discovery. Phone: 616-393-9453.


12. Detroit Lakes, Minn.—Pine to Prairie Birding Trail. Operated by area communities. RMEF grant recipient. A 200-mile driving trail featuring different habitats home to a tremendous variety of birds as well as opportunities for conservationists to study native wildlife. Interpretive signs at featured sites. Phone: 800-433-1888.

13. St. Cloud, Minn.—Sand Prairie Wildlife Management Area and Environmental Education Center. Operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. RMEF grant recipient. This 700-acre wildlife area is situated in the flood plain of the Mississippi River and features moist to wet remnant prairie, dry prairie and aspen. Wildlife viewing, nature study, hiking. Phone: 320-255-4279.


14. Lewistown, Mont.—Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge/Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. RMEF grant recipient. Hundreds of elk congregate here during the fall rut offering spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities. A self-guided auto tour route takes visitors on a 20-mile loop through a variety of habitat types. Numerous interpretive signs. Phone: 406-538-8706.

15. Missoula, Mont.—Elk Country Visitor Center. Operated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Free admission. Fun, hands-on exhibits, displays of record elk, western wildlife diorama, theater, nature trail, interpretive signage, gift shop. Focus on habitat and hunting heritage. Facility is part of the headquarters of the international conservation organization that has protected or enhanced over 5.7 million acres of habitat for elk and other wildlife. Phone: 406-523-4500.


16. Charleston, Ore.—Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. RMEF grant recipient. Up to 120 Roosevelt’s elk and other wildlife species may be viewed here year-round. The O.H. Hinsdale Interpretive Center is popular at nearby Reedsport, Ore. Phone: 541-756-0100.

17. Seaside, Ore.—Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area. Operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. RMEF grant recipient. A popular Roosevelt’s elk-viewing area from November through April. Open pastures border a state highway offering excellent viewing of up to 200 elk during winter and spring. Paved parking areas, four viewing areas, interpretive signage. Phone: 503-755-2264.


18. LaFollette, Tenn—Sundquist Wildlife Management Area/Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower. Operated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. RMEF grant recipient. Elk were reintroduced here beginning in 2000 with vital funding and assistance from RMEF. Theviewing tower allows visitors to observe these magnificent animals. Phone: 615-781-6500.


19. Hyram, Utah—
Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area. Operated by the Utah Divisionof Wildlife Resources. RMEF grant recipient. A good spot for a family outing to viewwildlife, especially in cold months when elk may be seen on this traditional winter range. Educational kiosks and exhibits. Phone: 435-753-6206.


20. Amboy, Wash.—Charles W. Bingham Forest Learning Center. Operated by WeyerhaeuserCompany in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation and RMEF. Site is located inside the blast zone of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens.Exhibits, trails, interpretive signage explaining forest recovery efforts. Additionalconservation attractions nearby. Phone: 360-274-7750.

21. Concrete, Wash.—
Hurn Field Elk Viewing Site. Operated by the nonprofit Skagit Land Trust. RMEF grant recipient. This 64-acre property provides food and shelter for over 50 elk during winter and spring. Many other wildlife and fish species present. Gravel parking area, interpretive signage. Phone: 360-428-7878.

22. Randle, Wash.—Gifford Pinchot National Forest/Woods Creek Interpretive Trail. Operated by the U.S. Forest Service. RMEF grant recipient. An interpretive 1.5-mile trail loops through five habitat areas, offering hikers an opportunity to learn about wildlife and the habitat. Trail guides are available at the trailhead. Phone: 360-891-5003.


23. Grantsburg, Wis.—Crex Meadows Wildlife Viewing Area. Operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. RMEF grant recipient. At 30,000 acres, this is the largest state-owned wildlife area in Wisconsin. Education center, exhibits, habitat dioramas, classroom facilities, gift shop, wildlife mounts, maps, publications. Guided tours can be arranged. Phone: 715-463-2739.


24. Jackson, Wyo.—National Elk Refuge/Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies with ongoing support from RMEF. Refuge holds up to 5,000 wintering elk, the world’s largest concentration. This herd has been the nucleus for replenishing and reintroducing elk herds across the U.S. Morethan 800 bison winter here, too. Visitor center, interpretive displays, book and gift store,videos, lectures, activities. Phone: 307-733-9212.

25. Lander, Wyo.—Lander Wildlife Education Center. Operated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. RMEF grant recipient. Dioramas, exhibits, hands-on educationalopportunities, publications. Group programs can be arranged. Connects to the Popo AgiePathway with wildlife viewing sites and interpretive signage. Phone: 307-332-2688.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.7 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at or 800-CALL ELK.

Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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