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Worth the Drive: Elk viewing in Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley Elk (James Richardson/Travelers Rest Tribune) Cataloochee Valley Elk (James Richardson/Travelers Rest Tribune)

CATALOOCHEE, N.C. — Located about two hours from Travelers Rest, Cataloochee Valley is nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States. Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, this isolated spot was one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In 2001, elk were released in Cataloochee Valley as part of an experimental program to reintroduce them to the park. The herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially in the early morning and evening hours. Elk viewing peaks in October, with visitors also flocking to the park to see the majestic fall colors.

Other Cataloochee Valley activities include touring historic buildings, hiking, fishing, and camping.  

For more information, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website here.

Getting there:

To get to the valley from interstate I-40, exit at North Carolina exit #20 and travel 0.2 miles on route 276. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow the signs 11 miles into the Cataloochee Valley. Using the Cove Creek Road route, motorists will be traveling on a gravel road for approximately 5 miles. (Map here. Be advised that actual drive times can vary with traffic in the valley.)

Note: The entrance road to Cataloochee Valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails. The road is narrow, so drivers may be required to stop or back up their vehicles to allow oncoming motorists to pass. Horse trailer traffic may also be encountered on the road. Please use caution when driving on this road.