Eighteen miles up Blacksmith Fork Canyon in Cache Valley is the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area. Hardware Ranch is 14,000 acres of managed public land, and from December to February is a winter wonderland.
As snow falls in the mountains in fall and early winter, between 500 and 600 elk come down to lower elevations to find food and more suitable habitat. Before Cache Valley was as busy as it is now (and most people who move to CV wouldn’t say its that busy), the elk would find suitable winter habitat down in the Valley. Due to development, its not practical to have 500+ elk looking for food and spending the winter in town. So to keep the herd healthy and out of people’s yards, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources started the elk feeding program at Hardware Ranch. The Ranch grows its own grassy hay during the summer, which is then fed to the elk over the winter, keeping them happy and safe in the Wildlife Management Area. But this also means that we know where the elk are going to be, and for how long, giving rise to the Elk Festival.
From early December to late February, Hardware Ranch offers elk viewing and wagon rides four days a week. Your horse-drawn wagon ride includes elk viewing (although not always as close-up as in some of the website’s pictures) and education on the animals and the feeding program by a DWR biologist. I took my husband to Hardware Ranch for a wagon ride for his birthday a few years ago during a fairly dry winter. There was no snow on the ground and very few visitors at the Ranch that morning, but we had the wagon and the biologist to ourselves for questions and a great experience!
The Ranch also has a visitor center with a small museum and information desk where tickets for the wagon rides can be purchased.
This isn’t an activity that will last all day (depending on the length of the line), but is something that makes a great date or family outing! You’ll be outside most of the time, so make sure you bundle up. Its a truly Cache Valley experience, and a great way to support your public lands. And the views of the canyon can’t be beat!
Hardware Ranch Elk Festival
- December through Feburary, Friday through Monday
- Family and date friendly
- 1-2 hour activity + drive time
- Admission: $5 for ages 9+, $3 for ages 4-8, children 3 and under free
- No food or fuel is sold at the Ranch, so pack a picnic and some hot cocoa!
Directions to Hardware Ranch can be found on their website.