The Elk at Cataloochee Valley

The Cataloochee Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has taken on new residents. Yes, in a region famous for its abundance of wildlife and plant life, the elk are back.  In the early spring of 2001 25 elk were taken from the Tennessee-Kentucky border area and released in the Cataloochee Valley area.  In 2002 the park transported another 25.  All the elk are radio collared and will be monitored during a five-year experimental phase, joining other reintroduced populations including the river otter, the peregrine falcon and three species of fish.

Several years ago and the elk would not have been here. Elk, who thrived in the Appalachian Mountains for countless years, were hunted out of existence in North Carolina in the late 1700s.  In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s.  By 1900, the population of elk in North America dripped to the point that many were afraid the species was headed for extinction. 

he best times to see the elk are early morning and late evening.  Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park. 

Take a drive through the park into Cataloochee Valley, and you'll see them, grazing quietly along the roads and in the meadows. A male may sit in tall grasses, the spread of his antlers visible above the green, surrounded by cows and calves, with an occasional visit from a wild turkey.  Around March the males shed their antlers, but they immediately begin growing new ones.  By August the antlers are full grown and have shed their “velvet.”   In early June, you may see calves, but their spots are usually gone by summer’s end.

To get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cataloochee Valley take I-40 to exit 20 (HWY 276). Turn right onto Cove Creek Road, which will be the first road on the right. This road will lead you into the park and Cataloochee Valley. The road will turn from pavement to gravel and then back to pavement. Once on Cove Creek Road, it will take approximately 25 minutes to reach the park

Note:  According to the National Park Service, it is illegal to remove the antlers from the park.