I first heard about the sleigh rides at Hardware Ranch and the elk herd that winters there 20 years ago. This was long before Utah’s Adventure Family even became a family. It just always seemed so daunting to drive up to Logan in the dead of winter to make this adventure happen. But we had a free day today, and the weather was nice, so we made the trek to Hyrum to enjoy a ride through the elk at Hardware Ranch.
Hardware Ranch (now known as the Hardware Wildlife Management Area is located in Blackfork Canyon near Hyrum. That means making the drive to Cache Valley (specific direction can be found on their website). The drive up the canyon was really beautiful, and we saw deer, ducks, and at least 100 wild turkeys in several different bunches. Some turkeys were right on the road, so we got a great look.
Rides through the Elk
A huge heard of elk lives at Hardware Ranch, we saw about 500, but the number is variable with the year. You can see them as you approach the Visitor Center. You can just view the elk from the road, and from up above atthe visitor center, but we recommend the sleigh/wagon ride if you come to Hardware Ranch so you can go right into the herd.
Drive up the hill to the right to buy tickets for the ride at the Visitor Center. Tickets are $10 for 9 and up, $4 for 4-8, and 3 and under are free. Then head down to the lower parking lot for the ride. Rides at Hardware Ranch only run Friday-Sunday from December through February. So this is a weekend adventure!
History of the Hardware elk
These elk are totally wild, but they have been fed during winters here since 1945. I was surprised to learn the reason for the feeding. People in Hyrum noticed that the elk would venture down the canyon into the city limits during winter time. Some were making a nuisance of themselves, others were killed, either intentionally or by accident. The city put a plan in place to feed the elk and the top of the canyon from December through February. That year, the problem disappeared and no elk were killed or seen in the city. Since then, the elk have been fed for their own safety.
Each sleigh (sometimes they use wagons depending on snow accumulation) can carry around 20 people, and they are pulled by 2 horses. The sleighs take you right up into the elk herd. The guides stop and allow you to take pictures, ask questions, and just sit for a few minutes. We stopped three times during our ride and the elk are within 10 yards of the wagon. There are massive bulls, mostly cows, and a few yearlings. There was even a youngster still with spots born in late fall.
Our boys were awed by this experience. We love wild animals and so they are used to being out in the canyons, but it is a rare treat to be that close to huge mammals that are truly wild. Of course, Dad asked about a million questions, all of which the guide was able to answer.
There is a small Visitor’s Center at the Hardware Wildlife Management area, but it has a lot of great hands-on exhibits for kids. You can touch animal furs, see taxidermied animals, read information signs about the elk, and search for animals in the mural. They also have spotting scopes and binoculars for public use, so you can view the elk a little closer from above. Make sure to grab an activity magnet off the board. Then complete the activity and tell the front desk for a treat. There are nice restrooms in the Visitor Center, too.
Our boys loved this trip, and so did we. It’s worth it to make a day trip to Hardware Ranch in Cache Valley to see the elk!
If you decide to make the trip to Hardware Ranch, come prepared for the weather. We had on a lot of layers and we were glad that we did even on the warm day we were there. Other people on our sleigh brought blankets to bundle up in which I would definitely do if it was snowing or cold!