The east side of Mount Rainier is home to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, considered by many to be one of the best locations for elk watching on the west coast.
The supplemental winter feeding of the Yakima elk herd can service up to 1,200 animals, including 90 branched-antlered bulls! The winter feeding program began in 1945. Today over 100,000 visitors come to view these spectacular animals each year. During severe winters, the elk herd can number in the thousands. When spring arrives, the herd heads up to higher elevations. The land will close to the public as the bulls lose their antlers during the winter recovery period. The road into the Oak Creek backcountry reopens in early May to allow access for gathering antlers and other wildlife watching activities. At the Cleman Mountain Feeding site, just a few miles east herds of bighorn sheep receive feeding.
When is the best time to visit the Oak Creek Wildlife Area?
The winter feeding of elk and bighorn sheep typically starts in late December, however, January and February are typically the best months for viewing. Feeding occurs daily at the Oak Creek Headquarters. Please keep in mind the feeding of the herd is weather dependent. It is always a good idea to call the wildlife office first before making the drive out to the site.
The wildlife area is over 94,000 acres and has a large parking and viewing area with an interpretive center to allow the public to closely watch the elk. The visitor center is staffed by volunteers. The visitor center has a video program, exhibits, and a kids’ corner. There is no charge to view the exhibits in the visitor center, but donations are welcomed. All donations are used to pay for the feeding program. (Please note, the visitor center is closed during COVID)
What to Bring?
A Discover Pass, camera, binoculars, and warm clothes. Please note The Discover Pass is REQUIRED to view the elk at the Oak Creek Feeding Station. The public viewing areas at the sheep site along Old Naches Highway and at Oak Creek Headquarters are open to anyone displaying a valid Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass that comes with a hunting or fishing license.
More to Explore
Q: Who can I call for more information?
Q: How do I find it? What are the directions?
A: From I-5 south of Olympia, head east on Hwy 12. The entrance is 10 miles east of Rimrock Retreat on the left (north) side. From I-82 at Yakima, head west on Hwy 12 through Naches. Four miles west of Naches, turn left at the junction to White Pass. Continue two miles to the entrance on the right (north) side.
Q: What is the physical address of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area?
A: 16601 Highway 12, Naches, Washington 98937 USA but call first to make sure they are feeding the elk and open to the public. Don’t make the long drive out there without calling first.
Q: Can I camp overnight at the feeding area?
A: Not right now, there’s a COVID restriction in place so the wildlife area is open to day-use visitors only.
Q: Is the visitor center open during COVID?
A: No, the visitor center and tours are closed until further notice.
Q: Can I bring my dog with me when I visit?
A: No, please leave companion pets at home because dogs spook the herds.