Afton's World Famous Elkhorn Arch

By: Tim Hale
Published: May 11, 2021

I used to think arches were only tall rock monuments made from red sandstone in the middle of the desert. But Afton's Arch is not your typical arch. The Elkhorn Arch rests over Highway 89 in downtown Afton, Wyoming and is the largest arch made from elk antlers. Thankfully no animals were killed in the making!

Elk typically grow their impressive horns for mating season. Once the season has passed (usually early spring), there is no need to impress the ladies any longer and the Elk shed their antlers. Elk antlers grow back quickly. When fall comes around, the elk are ready for combat with full length antlers again.

Unfortunately, elk herds have been diminishing. With towns expanding, elk migration lands have become almost non-existent. This has depleted elk feeding resources. By the start of the 20th century, elk herds in Wyoming were starving by the thousands.

With the help of Congress in 1912, the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming was established to protect elk herds. This included setting aside lands for winter game and grazing. Most of the antlers used to create Elkhorn Arch were gathered from the National Elk Refuge.

In 1955, a group of boy scouts gathered antlers as a scout project. And in 1956, Afton's Chamber of Commerce decided to put the horns to use. Making the arch was no easy task. The town placed a steel frame that stretched above four lanes of road and weaved the horns, screwing them together. The Arch was completed in 1958, standing 18 feet tall and 75 feet wide. It is estimated to weigh over 15 tons. The project cost approximately $2,500 to make. But if you were to make an arch as massive as Afton's today, the price for the antlers alone would be as high as $300,000.

As an on-going tradition, boy scouts obtain a special use permit to gather elk antlers at the National Elk Refuge. This prevents illegal poaching and damage to farming equipment. The boy scouts auction off these prized antlers and make as much as $47,000 a year. According to the Jackson Hole Traveler, the average price per pound the elk antlers sell for is $17. These antlers can weigh up to 10 pounds apiece. That's about $170 dollars per antler!

Since Elkhorn Arch was established, there have been some alterations made. According to Atlas Obscura, in early 2000 artist Jonathan LaBenne gifted two life-size bull elk models for the arch. They stand on top of the arch, their antlers interlocked in combat. Beneath them rests the sign that reads, “Afton, Wyoming.”

Surrounding the Elkhorn Arch is the rustic town of Afton, central to beautiful hiking trails, a golf course, mountain lakes perfect for fishing, and the famous Intermittent Spring that brings fresh water from a geyser.

Next time you drive through western Wyoming, make sure to drive under the World's largest Elkhorn Arch and experience Afton and its vibrant history.