Less than 20 miles away from our Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville, North Carolina is the Cataloochee area of the Smokies. The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001 with the importation of 25 elk. In 2002, the park imported another 27 animals. Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park and can often be seen from your car. Access requires driving a few miles on a narrow gravel road, but it is well-maintained and passable for standard passenger vehicles. To get there from our inn, take 276 north almost to I-40. Take a left a Cove Creek Rd. and follow the signs 11 miles into Cataloochee Valley.
The best times to view elk are usually early morning and late afternoon/evening. Elk may also be active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views. Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expend crucial energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, you are too close!
Some 1,200 people lived in this lovely mountain valley in 1910, making it one of the largest communities in the Smokies. Agriculture, including commercial apple growing, was the primary occupation. Some families also boarded fishermen and other tourists. A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley, including two churches, a school, and several homes and outbuildings. This is the best place in the park to see historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Recently, one of our guests went into Cataloochee Valley to photograph the elk. The photos in this blog were taken by Sandy Duncan (No, not the one that plays Peter Pan on Broadway!). Sandy is a nurse with a passion for photography. She, and her husband John, came to the Waynesville area specifically to visit the elk in Cataloochee Valley. As you can see by these photos, she was able to capture the elk in their natural environment. One of them is photographed while "bugling", which is their way of communicating.
The Cataloochee elk are just one of the incredible sights to be seen in the Waynesville, North Carolina area. More on "things to do in Waynesville" coming in future blogs!
Carolyn Gendreau & Dina Giunta
Brookside Mountain Mist Inn