DONNELLY, Idaho — Just off Highway 55, south of Donnelly, is something you have to see to believe: breathtaking mountains, silent snow, and 211 elk.
"The more snow we get, the more elk we see!" Casey Points said on an afternoon sleigh ride.
Casey knows her job is a bit out of the ordinary. Her family has shared this land with a herd of wild elk for six generations, now feeding the animals three times a day.
"It's a working ranch all year round, but when the elk are here, we’ll take care of them," Points said.
It started out as a family responsibility, but in the late-80's the secret got out. People started showing up on the property hoping to catch a sight of the wild animals, so the Points started opening up the invitation to outsiders.
That's how Hap and Florence Points Sleigh Rides got started, named after Casey's great-grandparents.
A group visiting from Texas joined us on our afternoon excursion. A sleigh ride was high on their Idaho Bucket list, but a sleigh ride surrounded by countless wild elk turned out to be even better.
"This is amazing!" the women agreed. "This should be on everybody’s bucket list!"
The sleigh can comfortably fit a dozen visitors. The seats are hay bales. It's also the lunch menu for the herd.
"This is the most fabulous thing I’ve ever done! I cannot believe the elk just come right up and eat our seats!" the women said.
The whole tour takes about an hour. Casey, her dad, and her brother, take turns taking the reigns, teaching everyone on board about the wild animals who return year after year.
"It's always neat to see who comes back, how they’re doing," Points said. "Bulls tend to be a lot more standoffish with the people aspect of it, but this year we’re sitting at six branched-antler bulls. It's really neat to see the variety of them, and that they’ve been here pretty much every day since they first came in!"
Despite the close proximity, the massive animals really don't seem to mind visitors, even befriending the horses who pull the sleigh.
“Everybody has a pecking order!" Points explained. "It's neat to see the behavior of these guys knowing that they are wild. With such a long history, knowing that as long as everybody’s on the sled, all they have to do is just eat the food! This is nice!”
The daily visits only last through winter. The herd usually shows up in early December, and once food becomes easier to find elsewhere, the animals tend to wander off.
In the meantime, meals will be delivered by sleigh through March.
"I'm just so blessed," Points said. "It's just so neat to be able to share this with everybody who comes out."
If you're interested in tagging along for yourself, you'll definitely want to dress accordingly and be prepared for cold, winter weather. You also need to make reservations in advance and pay by check or cash.
"The only way we can keep up with feeding these animals now is with the help of all of you who come out," Points said.
You can contact the family for reservations by phone. Click here to learn more.