Attention: Weather and road conditions can vary greatly in different elevations. Go to www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/conditions.htm or twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps for the latest road and facility closures.
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. The valley is one the most remote parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is rich in mountain history and beauty. The area is laced with abundant wildflowers and wildlife including elk, white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkey, butterflies and many species of birds. The tranquil scenery is sure to inspire the inner artist in everyone. With several hiking trails, streams for fishing, and preserved buildings from the early 1900’s, there is plenty to explore in Cataloochee Valley.
Don’t forget to stop by the Haywood County Visitor Center and pick up a free guide on elk sightseeing in the Smokies or to learn more about Cataloochee Valley tours.
Directions to Cataloochee Valley
The easiest way to reach Cataloochee Valley is to take 276 North (Jonathan Creek Road) off Highway 19 in Maggie Valley, NC. Go about 6 miles and turn left onto Cove Creek Road, the last left turn before coming to 1-40 intersection. Travel on Cove Creek Road* into Cataloochee Valley.
From 1-40: Take exit 20 towards Maggie Valley. After 1/2 mile, turn right on Cove Creek Road*. Go about 13 miles to the Cataloochee Valley.
*Cove Creek Road is a steep, ten-mile, narrow, curving mountain road. There is a three-mile unpaved section leading up and over Cove Creek Gap, and then winding down the other side of the mountain. Early settlers built this road by hand in the 1800’s and called it Cataloochee Turnpike. This graveled section remains a vital reminder of Cataloochee’s history and a tribute to its builders . When you again reach pavement, turn left and enjoy your easy descent into the valley.
Seasons in Cataloochee Valley
CALVING SEASON: LATE SPRING
Most of the calves in Cataloochee Valley and Western North Carolina are born in late May thru June. The cows hide their calves in the high grass. For safety and to avoid disturbing the calves, visitors should stay out of the fields. Cows can be aggressive in protecting their young. By late June, visitors can often see the calves up and moving with the herd.
GROWING SEASON: SUMMER
The elk herd can often be seen grazing in the fields. Bulls are “in velvet,” rapidly growing new antlers. The calves are growing quickly and will gain as much as 140 pounds by winter.
THE RUT: FALL
The mating season for elk is called the rut, which occurs from mid-September through the end of October. Large bull elk bugle and fight for domination and the right to breed with the cows. This can be a dangerous time for visitors as the bulls can be aggressive with unpredictable behavior. For your protection, please remain on the roadway and near your vehicle during the rut.
WINTER IN CATALOOCHEE
Winter is a quiet time in Cataloochee valley. The elk herd retreats to the woods and may not be seen in the fields for weeks. The road becomes treacherous with snow. The road into Cataloochee Valley will often be closed when snow is on the peaks around Jonathan Valley.