How to get to Cataloochee Valley to see the elk in the Great Smoky Mtns Park. Watch the video below for driving directions to Cataloochee Valley.

See the Elk in Cataloochee Valley  |  See the Elk in Cherokee

The history of elk in Cataloochee Valley, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is both compelling and illustrative of broader conservation efforts. Here’s an overview:

Pre-19th Century

Elk were once abundant throughout the eastern United States, including the region that now encompasses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, their numbers drastically declined due to unregulated hunting and habitat destruction.

19th Century to Early 20th Century

By the mid-1800s, elk were extirpated from the southern Appalachian mountains. Hunting pressure and the expansion of human settlements, which altered their natural habitats, made it impossible for elk populations to sustain themselves.

Restoration Efforts

In 2001, the National Park Service and other partners initiated an elk reintroduction program in Cataloochee Valley. This program aimed to restore a native species that had been absent from the region for over 150 years. The initial reintroduction involved transporting 25 elk from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky to Cataloochee Valley. In 2002, another 27 elk were introduced.


The reintroduction has been considered a success. The population has shown steady growth, and the elk have adapted well to their new environment. The elk have become a popular attraction in the park, drawing visitors particularly during the fall rutting season and early mornings and evenings.

Ongoing Challenges

Despite the success, the elk population faces several challenges, including habitat encroachment, disease, and occasional conflicts with humans. Conservation efforts continue to focus on habitat management, monitoring of the elk’s health and numbers, and educating the public about how to coexist with these large mammals safely.

This successful reintroduction in Cataloochee Valley is a testament to nature’s resilience when given a chance and supported by thoughtful conservation practices.

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