Visiting Elk and Bighorn Sheep Of Oak Creek Wildlife Area
Feed Your Need For Wildlife
There’s an absolute thrill that comes with viewing animals in nature. Childlike wonder and curiosity takes over whenever we are graced with the opportunity to see animals of the wild up close. Oak Creek Wildlife Area gives visitors the chance to appreciate elk and bighorn sheep safely, but at close range. There are areas along a fence for viewing as the animals mill around or rest on the ground. Feeding times, where hay bales are dropped throughout the field, gives visitors a chance to see interactions amongst the individuals of the herd while eating. Finally, you can pile in the back of a large raised truck that will drive you right into the midst of a few hundred animals to experience the sites, sounds and smells that are inherent to a herd of elk.
A Drive Through White Pass To Cleman Mountain Site
Many occasions in the offseason have brought us past the Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Naches, Washington. It has always been our intent to visit in winter when the elk feedings are happening. Feeding of the elk and sheep takes place during winter months to lessen the negative impacts the animals have on surrounding agricultural areas. We finally fulfilled that promise to ourselves this year. We heeded the advice of the website and called ahead to make a reservation for the truck tour. Otherwise it is a first come first served basis. The tours are free, but a recommended donation of $5 per person is suggested, and all donations go toward the feeding program. The visitors center and tour trucks are staffed by volunteers who happily share a wealth of knowledge with visitors.
We arrived on the eastern side of the White Pass Scenic Byway about an hour before our tour. When we called to make our reservations, we were told there was a bighorn sheep viewing area about 4 miles away from the elk feeding in Oak Creek. We used our early arrival to visit the bighorn sheep. The feeding of the sheep takes place between 10:30-11:00. We arrived after the feeding was done, but the sheep were all still congregated around the hay piles. The snow was really coming down, but we managed to get some photos of the herd. It was immediately apparent why they are called bighorn sheep. These sheep can reach near 300 pounds with a pair of curved horns that can weigh as much as 30 pounds. The rams present as robust and majestic creatures, not the fluffy shy things that come to mind when one thinks of a sheep.
Rocky Mountain Elk at Oak Creek Wildlife Area
We scheduled ourselves for the 1PM tour to see the elk. We loaded onto the back of the truck with benches along either side. We brought along a couple of blankets, one to sit on and one to cover our laps. Bringing the blankets was a good move as the metal benches were extra cold in this snowy, windy weather. We were packed on the seats rather tightly to accommodate all those who had signed up for the same time slot. The truck slowly drove out into several hundred member elk herd as our volunteer guide gave anecdotal and factual bits about the animals surrounding us. Large bulls, spikes, cows, and calves make up this herd. The elk scattered just enough to give the truck clearance, making it clear they are used to the vehicle. The truck stopped for maybe 20 minutes to allow for photos, before cranking up and returning to the entrance.
The feeding of the elk began at 1:30, so we had time to put our blankets back in the jeep and warm up a bit. We returned to the fence line to watch two large trucks deliver many piles of hay around the field. The largest bull was made evident as he was the first to make his way to the first hay pile. As the piles were thrown from the backs of the trucks, the elk congregated around in groups of 8 or so and began eating. There were minor scuffles as a reminder of hierarchy and dominance, other than that the elk all grazed on the hay without incident. Several of the elk would nibble from one pile, move to another and nibble there and move onto the next pile. I suppose even elk can be picky eaters.
No matter how frequently we are graced with an opportunity to view wildlife, we never tire of it. The awe of seeing these powerful animals up close, but still in their natural environment is a motivator to protect and preserve their habitats. Places like this are places we hope will endure. If you find yourself in White Pass in winter, we recommend you visit Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Take a moment to gaze upon a herd of elk, be captivated by a giant set of antlers or enormous set of horns. Watch the animals nudge and prod one another in a show of dominance. Watch and appreciate the opportunity to watch.
Helpful Information & Links
Visitor Center Hours: 9AM-4PM during winter months.
Feeding Time: Sheep at 10:30AM and Elk at 1:30PM during winter months.
Pass/Fees: Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass to park. Truck tour is free; donations accepted.
Reservations: Call 509-698-5106.