HYRUM — As winter sets in, hundreds of elk are descending from their summer ranges at higher elevations and congregating at a feeding ground that has been helping the large mammals get through cold Top of Utah winters for 65 years.
As the seasonal migration gets into full swing, the people who run Hardware Ranch are preparing to open their gates this week for the public to enjoy Utah’s best opportunity to get an up-close view of hundreds of wintering Rocky Mountain elk.
Hardware Ranch, located 15 miles up Blacksmith Fork Canyon at the southern end of Cache Valley, will open for the season at noon Friday for horse-drawn wagon rides among a large herd of elk that has already showed up, drawn by the prospect of daily feedings of hay.
Marni Lee, assistant manager at the ranch, said about 150 head of elk have already come down into the feeding area. That number will increase as more snow falls and covers the animals’ foraging grounds in the surrounding hills and mountains.
“There’s not much snow to speak of right now,” Lee said on Tuesday afternoon, “but as the weather gets worse, the elk viewing gets better.”
More herds arrive at the ranch as winter progresses, and at its peak, the ranch hosts up to 600 head of elk, she said.
When the state purchased the ranch in 1945 to help elk that were being displaced due to expanding agricultural activity in their traditional Cache Valley wintering grounds, it covered 7,560 acres. Subsequent acquisitions have expanded it to encompass more than 14,000 acres under the supervision of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
On Saturday, Hardware Ranch will host its annual elk festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to wagon rides through the elk herd, activities at the festival include crafts such as making Christmas ornaments out of plants found at the ranch and pinecone bird feeders.
Wagon rides cost $5 for people aged 9 and older, or $3 for those aged 4 to 8. Children aged 3 and under ride for free. The other activities at Saturday’s festival are free for all.
Throughout the winter, the ranch will be open for wagon or sleigh rides from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and Mondays, and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The visitor center will be closed and rides will not be running Tuesday through Thursday.
Lee encourages visitors to bring binoculars and dress for all types of weather. For more information, visit www.hardwareranch.com or call 435-753-6206.