See the Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Tucked away in a corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this valley is a hotspot for elk watchers.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Adams @nikki.j.adams

Ultimate Guide to Viewing Elk in the Smoky Mtns of NC

See Elk In the Smokies on Instagram

Find Elk in the Smokies – Photo cred @nikki.j.adams

Welcome to the ultimate chill-out zone for elk enthusiasts – Haywood County!

This is where the cool, antlered locals hang out, especially in the Cataloochee Valley. Tucked away in a corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this valley is a hotspot for elk watchers. Why? Well, it’s home to a bunch of elk that decided to move back in, thanks to a little help from their human friends.


So, you want to hang with the elk? Great choice! Just remember, these majestic creatures aren’t behind fences. They’re living their best life out in the open, so knowing how to respect their space is key. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the elk-etiquette!

Find Elk in the Smokies – Photo cred @nikki.j.adams

Where to Spot the Elks:

The Cataloochee Valley, near Maggie Valley, NC, is your go-to spot. It’s like the elk’s favorite chill-out lounge. Though you might also catch them on tour in places like Maggie Valley, Oconaluftee, Ravensford, and even chilling with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, NC.

Before You Go:

Cataloochee is pretty off-grid – no gas stations, no snack bars, nada. So, fill up your car, pack some goodies, and maybe hit the loo before you venture in. The valley isn’t just about elk; it’s got history, hikes, and some old-school buildings to explore. But let’s be real; you’re here for the elk.

A Little Elk History Lesson:

Once upon a time, elk were everywhere in the U.S. But then, things got rough, and by the 1800s, they were pretty much a no-show. Fast forward to 2001, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park teamed up with some elk enthusiasts to bring them back. Starting with 52, the herd has grown to a strong group of over 150!

Staying Safe Around Elks:

Remember, elk are wild animals, not pets. Keep a safe distance – about 150 feet should do it, or more if they seem bothered. And don’t even think about feeding them. It’s bad news for everyone involved.

Best Times to Watch Elks:

Dawn and dusk are like happy hour for elk. That’s when they come out to eat and play. They’re also pretty active when it’s cloudy or right before a storm hits.

Elk Watching, Season by Season:

  • Late Spring: Baby elk time! But keep your distance so mommy elk don’t get worried.
  • Summer: The elk are out and about, enjoying the grass. You’ll see the bulls sporting their new antlers.
  • Fall: It’s dating season for the elk, also known as the rut. The bulls are busy impressing the ladies, so give them space.
  • Winter: The elk take a break and head to the woods, making them harder to spot.

For all the insider tips and a handy guide, swing by the Haywood County Visitor Center. Or, go all out with a guided eco-tour in Cataloochee Valley. It’s an elk watching party you don’t want to miss.

Now you’re all set! Go forth and enjoy the majestic elk of Cataloochee Valley – just remember to respect their home and keep it safe and fun for everyone.


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