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Cataloochee Valley ...

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Cataloochee Valley - North Carolina

Sparring Elk
Sparring Elk (late November 2010), Cataloochee Valley - Joe Kegley

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 11-27-2010


Elk, Cataloochee
- Joe Kegley


Like Cades Cove, the Cataloochee Valley was a farming community before the land was purchased for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park back in the 1930's. A few historical homes remain, along with a church and a school house. Today this area in the Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its reintroduced elk and some very large trees on the Boogerman Trail.

The Cataloochee Valley area of the park has a first come/first serve campground. Bathrooms with running water and flushing toilets are located at the campground. In addition to the typical car camping, there is a group campground and an equestrian campground both of which need to be reserved. A ranger station is located on site. The closest motels are located in Maggie Valley.

Cataloochee Valley Video

Elk Calf

Elk calf, Cataloochee- Joe Kegley

Nature Perspective


Elk, Cataloochee
- Joe Kegley

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park consist of 800 square miles of Southern Appalachian mountains along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Approximately 95% of the park is forested with about 25% of that area old-growth forest. Cataloochee Valley is only a small part of the park. The tallest tree in the eastern United States, a 187.5 ft White Pine (previously 207 ft tall before Hurricane Opal in 1995), is located in the Cataloochee area of the park off of the Boogerman trail.

Commonly observed wildlife in the Cataloochee area include elk, white-tailed deer, Wild Turkeys, and an occasional black bear.

The re-introduction of elk to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001 with the addition of 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes area of the TN/KY border. Another 27 elk from Canada were added in 2002. Most of the elk can be found in the Cataloochee Valley area. Starting in 2006, black bear relocation was initiated in the Cataloochee area during calving season (late May thru early July) to give the elk offspring a better chance of survival. Many of the bears find their way back in a couple of weeks and by that time the calves are on their feet and can escape predators.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey, Cataloochee
- Joe Kegley

Wilderness Experience Perspective

Like all areas in the Smokys, there are places of solitude and places of human congestion. If you want solitude I would suggest one of the hiking trails.

My favorite hiking trail in the area is the the Boogerman trail for the trees. The Rough Fork hiking trail is good for a nice easy somewhat flat hike (at least for a mile or two).

There is also the Little Cataloochee area that is off the mountain road going to Cosby. This area is rarely visited and actually has a church and a cabin off the Little Cataloochee trail. I have never encountered another person while hiking this trail.

You will not be alone in the main Cataloochee Valley area, though it's not nearly as crowded as Cades Cove and most folks are very courteous. Try one of the many hiking trails in the area for a quiter experience.

Photography Perspective

From personal experience the best time for viewing Wild Turkey is in the morning. Deer and black bear are seen only occasionally.

Elk can be seen everyday, especially in the evening. The elk come into the fields to graze 1-2 hours before dusk. A good spot for the large bulls is the barn next to the ranger station. The grass in front of the barn is a domestic lawn species and apparently very appealing to the large bulls.

One important note about the elk, many of the adults have ear tags and radio collars. Rarely have I found an elk in a position that makes cloning out the added jewelry in photoshop easy. Look for the non-tagged elk.

Also note that if you are wanting to see a large rack on a male, spring is not the time to come. Elk shed their antlers during the late winter and early spring. A better time for large racks is late summer and throughout the fall. For rutting behavior (sparring and bugle calls) try late September and October. I was even able to observe some sparring elk during late November, though that is a little late for that behavior at Cataloochee.

Young Elk Bull

Young Elk Bull, Cataloochee- Joe Kegley

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Camping Equipment - should you wish to camp at the park campground next to Cataloochee Creek.

  • Neoprene hunting boots - handy for walking in fields during the early morning dew.

Location and Points of Interest

Cataloochee Valley Map (Google interactive map)

left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions

Additional Information

  • http://www.nps.gov/grsm/ - Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the National Park Service web site.
  • http://www.friendsofthesmokies.org/ - a non-profit organization that assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and by providing volunteers for needed projects.

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