Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is located in a remote but picturesque valley in the southeast corner of the Smoky Mountains. Cataloochee was first settled in the 1830s and at one time was home to 1,200 residents and 200 buildings. Today only a few buildings remain from that early settlement and this peaceful valley has become a great place to view wildlife.

 Especially Elk.

 And that is why we are willing to make the long trip on a narrow, winding, dusty, gravel road over the mountain into this isolated valley.

Will Messer Barn

Because of it's remoteness, Cataloochee doesn't receive near the visitors as Cades Cove, but the number of visitors has risen the last 10 years due to the release of elk in this area. Elk once roamed  these mountains but were eliminated because of over-hunting and loss of habitat.
Reintroduction began in 2001 when 25 elk were released here in Cataloochee and another 27 in 2002. The release was considered an experiment in the beginning but has now been deemed a success. At this point the herd has increased to approximately 140.  

 The best time to view the elk is early morning or late afternoon when they start coming out of the woods into the fields to graze.

In September and October the bulls are coming into rut and this is a great time to hear them bugle.

Elk males bugle and use aggressive behaviour to establish dominance over other males in order to attract females. Their calls can be heard from a mile away.

While most elk tend to stay in the area they are born, a few have wandered over the mountain and have been seen in the Cherokee and Big Cove areas.

A few females grazed just several yards from where we were observing at the side of the road completely unfazed from all the attention they were getting. It is illegal for humans to approach elk but I guess they can approach us. I would have been out of there in a hurry if a bull came that close!
One year we observed a smaller bull approach the harem of a much larger bull and got chased off by the dominant bull. The smaller one turned and ran directly into the crowd of people standing by the road. It would have been funny watching all the photographers with their camera equipment scatter if it wouldn't have been so dangerous. These are wild animals and we are in their home so give them plenty of space.

(We did get a good laugh out of that though.)

Beech Grove School

Palmer Chapel

Caldwell House

Log bridge to the Caldwell House

I have so much gratitude and respect to the Great Smoky Mountains for preserving places like Cataloochee and Cades Cove and reintroducing wildlife. A few other successful introductions have been River Otters and Peregrine Falcons.  One that failed was Red Wolf released in Cades Cove, mostly due to competition from coyotes.
If you love history, nature and animals make sure you don't miss Cataloochee Valley.
I get such a feeling of reverence and awe when I take in the sights and sounds of these long ago places.


  1. Nice photos Pearl. We both appreciate old buildings. Makes for nice pictures. We haven't made it over there yet. Maybe next time.

    1. It's kind of far to drive over there from Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge so we stayed in Waynesville one night. We are talking about tent camping in Cataloochee sometime. I think I could do that one night.

  2. What glorious photos. You captured some great shots.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. My favorite area of the park.....I was in Maggie Valley Oct. 22-29 and down in Cataloochee hiking almost every day. Wander if we were there at the same time????

  4. Love your elk pics!Looks like a beautiful area to visit.I'm working on making a new nature blog and yours is so inspiring!I too love to visit remote places without lots of people.

    1. It is a beautiful area. Just a little hard to get to but a lot less people than Cades Cove which I love inspite of the hoards of tourists:(
      Is your nature blog on-line yet? I would love to see it.