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Elk Capital of the East, Knott County Kentucky ...

Kentucky Elk Herd
Kentucky Elk Herd, Knott County - Randy Lawson

Randy Lawson | E-Mail | Posted 11-22-09

Bull Elk Bugling

Bull Elk Bugling - Randy Lawson

Knott County

Knott County Kentucky has been declared the "Elk Capital of the East". Located just northeast of the town of Hindman, the most popular property used for elk viewing is off KY-1098. Elk View Drive is a well maintained dirt road with intertwining dirt roads that branch off the main drive and extend into the property. Years ago this land was a surface coal mine which has now been reclaimed under the Coal Mine Restoration Act. The success of the elk restoration project is due in large part to the collaboration between researchers at the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. In 1988, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park began to study the possibility of returning elk to their native range. A decade later, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation released seven elk onto reclaimed coal mining lands.


Kentucky Elk Portrait

Kentucky Elk, Knott County
- Randy Lawson

The property is owned by Miller Brothers Mining Company and Knott County (Sutton Memorial Park). The geography of the land is spacious fields of grasses with ravines of hardwoods.

Finding Elk View Drive is very easy, and it is just as easy to find the elk, however timing is everything. Elk are active in the early morning and the last hour of daylight, though they can be found moving through the area at any time of day. This is especially true on damp drizzly days.

Arriving before sunrise, you should drive very slowly with your windows down listing for the sounds of the cow or the bugles of the bulls during the late summer and fall rutting season. In addition, you should be constantly scanning the ridgelines for their silhouette. A good indication that elk have been spotted is when you see cars stopped along the road. Just slowly proceed to their location or just keep going looking for your own herd.

Once you have located the elk that you wish to view and photograph, you can exit your vehicle and position yourself to get the best shots. It is important to note that these elk are free ranging and wary of people. Therefore, approaching them or quick movements will make them move away you. It is possible to get within 20 to 30 yards of elk while in your vehicle, however it is difficult to approach them on foot.


So what makes this area so interesting to the nature photographer? The morning views on top of the mountain, with fall colors and the fog, can be very breath taking. The ability to see and photograph non-radio collared or non-tagged elk in their habit is a unique experience for us that live in the east. There are very few places in the eastern United States that provide this opportunity.

As an added bonus there are other mammals available for viewing, including turkey, whitetail deer, fox, and bobwhite quail.


Young Bull Elk

Young Bull Elk - Randy Lawson

Driving Directions to Elk View Drive in Knott County

The nearest town is Hindman. It is located in Knott County just off of Hwy 80. To reach Hindman, take I-75 north from the TN/KY border for approximately 40 miles, then exit onto Hwy 80 going east.

Follow Hwy 80 for approximately 75 miles to reach Hindman. Going east on Hwy 80 from Hindman, you will take a left onto KY-1098 in approximately 4 miles. Take KY-1098 north to the top of the mountain, there you will find a dirt road to your left, Elk View Drive.

The dirt roads are well maintained and 4 wheel drive vehicles are not required. Other modes of transportation available include various elk viewing tours that are offered by several of the Kentucky State Parks.


ATV and horses are another great way to get around the property. Trail rides are also available for those who are adventurous. The downside to any organized tour, however, is that you are on their schedule; but it is an excellent way to learn what is in store for you. I will say on a positive note that the elk tours from the state parks do allow you go get out of the van to photograph, as well as provide you with a bag breakfast.

The following website offers just about everything one may need to know for the trip from lodging to points of interest in the area. http://www.knottcountyadventure.com/elk.html


Kentucky Elk Bull

Kentucky Elk Bull
- Randy Lawson

Kentucky Elk Country Corridor

In addition to Knott county (the self proclaimed Elk Capital of the East), five other counties make up what is termed "Kentucky's Elk Country Corridor". Counties in the elk corridor include Breathitt, Clay, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, and Perry. The region is bordered by two national forests; Daniel Boone National forest on the west side and Jefferson National Forest on the eastern KY/VA border. This area also includes two state parks, four wildlife management areas, and a nature preserve. Elevations vary from 675 ft to 3,273 ft.

Approximately 1500 elk were re-introduced to the region between 1997 and 2002. The region now boasts a population over 11,000, the largest herd east of the Rocky Mountains. The population is large enough for elk hunting to be resurrected on a quota basis through a lottery. Elk are even occasionally sited inside the VA border.


In addition to Elk View Drive in Knott Count, Breathitt county also has an elk viewing station just off of Hwy 1098, 10 miles east of Hwy 15, on mine land reclaimed by ICG-Hazard LLC. Other areas in the region to view elk include the Star Wildlife Management Area in Perry county, the Redbird Wildlife Management Area in Leslie county and portions of the Robinson Forest in Breathitt county.

Top of the mountain in Knott County, Elk Country
Top of the mountain in Knott County, Elk Country - Randy Lawson


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