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How to Explore Cataloochee Valley in a Day


One of the best places to visit in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is Cataloochee Valley! Not only is the drive beautiful, the valley is truly a sight to behold. Once you enter the valley you’ll soon discover there’s so much to do, that you’ll want to clear your schedule and spend the whole day.

The valley is one the most remote parts of the park and is rich in mountain history and beauty. With several hiking trails, streams for fishing, and preserved buildings from the early 1900’s, there is plenty to explore in Cataloochee Valley.

Consider this your ultimate guide for all there is to do and see in the valley to help you plan for your next trip.


Since you won’t have cell service or any stores nearby, we recommend a few things to consider before hitting the windy roads into Cataloochee Valley.

  • Bring all the food and water you’ll need for the day
  • Let someone know where you’ll be and an estimated time for your return
  • Download a Google Map or AllTrails of the area to use offline
  • Pick up a map of the area at the Haywood County Visitor Center
  • Charge up those phones and cameras because there’s photo opportunities at every corner of the valley
  • Plan to wear comfortable clothes and shoes for a full day of outdoor adventure


Start your day bright and early with a visit to see the reintroduced elk of Cataloochee Valley, which are most visible during dawn and dusk. Just remember that while the Elk may look friendly, you are required to remain at least 150 feet away from them and at a distance that does not disturb them. The best way to enjoy elk at a distance is to bring binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views.

Cataloochee Valley is also abundant with wildflowers and other wildlife including white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkey, butterflies and many species of birds.


Cataloochee Valley is also home to nine historic buildings, including a school, church, barn and several homes. You can find five of the buildings along the main road in the valley and the other four can be reached via the Little Cataloochee Trail.

Click HERE for a closer look into Cataloochee Valley’s history and how it became the amazing attraction it is today.


Pitch a picnic and watch elk graze nearby in the grassy fields just after sunrise or just before sunset. One of our favorite picnic spots is on the front porch of the Caldwell House, which was built in 1909. The house is located near the end of the road past Palmer Chapel and Beech Cove School. You can also set up a picnic along the creek behind the Chapel or park your car to enjoy some roadside grub and watch wildlife to stroll by.


Cataloochee Valley is a great starting point for a number of hiking trails, including some of our favorites:

  • Little Cataloochee Trail – This 10-mile out-and-back trail follows an old road past historic cabins and a church and is perfect for backpacking, hiking and horseback riding.
  • Rough Fork Trail – This is a 12-mile out-and-back trail and is considered moderately difficult. This is a great trail for hiking, horseback riding and trail running, and it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many other people while out exploring.
  • Boogerman Trail – This 7-mile trail is considered a challenging route but is a popular trail for hiking and trail running.
  • Pretty Hollow Gap Trail – This is a 11-mile out-and-back trail and is considered a challenging route. Enjoy backpacking, camping, and fishing along this trail.

Pro Tip: If you’re not an experienced hiker (like many of us), choose to only walk a section of the out-and-back trails. Hiking is meant to be a fun and relaxing activity, so only do whatever you feel comfortable doing.

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to explore Cataloochee Valley in a day and hope that you’ll venture to the valley the next time you’re in town! #haynow

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