Cataloochee Valley Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After a great stay in Virginia we headed south to the Smokies in North Carolina in search of bugling elk. I’ve seen elk in many different places but never thought I would be able to experience the sound of a bull elk bugling without traveling all the way to Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountains. I was wrong. There are elk in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America. We’ve traveled there several times over the years but I had never heard about the elk in Cataloochee Valley until my friend Holly posted last year about the Bugling Elk in Cataloochee Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Elk were once abundant in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Over hunting and habitat loss caused the elk to be eliminated from North Carolina  many years ago.

In February, 2001, the National Park Service began an experimental reintroduction of elk into Cataloochee Valley by releasing 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Another 27 elk from Canada were released in 2002.

Getting to Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is located on the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The nearest towns are Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Getting to the valley involves an 11 mile drive on Cove Creek Road. This is a road that is not for the faint of heart. The turnoff to Cove Creek Road is only about a mile from Interstate 40 and the first part of the drive is on a narrow, curved paved road that passes by homes tucked away on the side of the mountain. After a few miles, the pavement is replaced by gravel. All along the way are few guardrails, many switchbacks, blind curves, and hairpin turns. As we continued on the road I felt like we were millions of miles away from civilization.

We stopped at an national park overlook for a spectacular view before continuing into the valley.

Cows on first day

We made two trips into Cataloochee Valley. On our first visit we were thrilled to see elk by the first field. A young elk was grazing in the field with a large cow in the woods across the road. We stopped to watch a large bull elk at the far end of another field and had another bull cross the road in front of the truck. Alas, I wasn’t able to get pictures of them.

Mama Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Elk Calf in Cataloochee Valley
Young  elk  in Cataloochee Valley
Bugling Bulls

The breeding season, also known as the rutting season, is in the fall. During this time the bull elk make their bugling calls to attract females and challenge other bulls. We ventured down Cove Creek Road again a second day in hopes of seeing and hearing some bugling bulls.

The best time to view elk is late in the afternoon before sunset so we arrived later in the afternoon than we had the first day. We weren’t disappointed. There were several elk in the first field we came to and as we continued down the road a lone bull stood in a small field. As we pulled off the road and rolled down the windows we watched him raise is head and we heard him make his bugle sound. We could hear more bugliing far off in the distance.

Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Later on we came across another bugling bull. We think he was trying to attract a female we saw in the woods. She wasn’t paying any attention to him.

Bull Elk Bugling in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk Bugling in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Young elk

We didn’t witness any large bulls sparring but we did enjoy watching two young elk locking antlers right beside the truck. After a few minutes, they went back to grazing.

Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Face Off
Face Off
Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Elk in Cataloochee Valley
History of Cataloochee

The first people to visit Cataloochee Valley were Native Americans who fished and hunted but did not settle there permanently. In the early 1800’s white settlers moved into the valley.

By the early 1900’s Cataloochee was the largest settlement in the Smokies with almost 200 buildings. Today a few of the remaining buildings  can be seen as you drive through the valley and others are accessible by one of the many trails.

By 1938, most of the families had moved out of the valley after selling their land to the government for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We camped at Creekwood Farm RV Park in Waynesville, NC. The campground is less than a mile from the turnoff to Cove Creek Road.

Wyoming High Plains to Rocky Mountains in Colorado to Missouri

Day 102: Sunday, August 25, 2013. Currently in Blue Springs Missouri.

Fort Caspar, Wyoming
Fort Caspar, Wyoming

After leaving Sheridan we drove through the high plains where we saw ranches, several herds of pronghorn antelope, and prairie dogs beside the road. We spent a night in Casper, Wyoming at Ft. Caspar RV Park where we visited Fort Caspar on the North Platte River.

Relaxing at our campsite by the Big Thompson River in Loveland, CO
Relaxing at our campsite by the Big Thompson River in Loveland, CO

Before heading into the plains of Kansas  we stopped for two nights at Riverview RV Park in Loveland, Colorado where we had a campsite right on the Big Thompson River. Kicking back and listening to the river was pure heaven.

The next day we drove about 30 miles to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park to make the drive along Trail Ridge Road. On our visit to the park Memorial Day weekend in 2011 we attempted the drive but had to stop near the beginning of the road because of snow on the road. The drive was beautiful and we saw plenty of wildlife. We went over the highest point of the Trail Ridge Road. At 12,183 feet, it was the highest elevation we have been to on this entire trip.

The drive from Loveland to our next stop at the Wakeeney KOA in Kansas took us through cattle country. We drove by stockyards with more cattle than I have ever seen. The winds were strong all day and Henry was fighting a strong headwind for much of the day. We passed by huge wind farms in Colorado and Kansas.  After driving almost 400 miles we stopped in Wakeeney, Kansas for the night to rest up before another long day of driving through Kansas.

The next morning we continued our trek east through Kansas where we continued to see cattle and fields of corn, wheat, and other grains. Wild sunflowers grew beside the highway. We started hitting city traffic in Topeka and drove through Kansas City, the biggest city in Missouri. Going through the city was a lot like going through downtown Atlanta – not fun. We spent the night in Blue Springs Campground, a nice, quiet county park in Blue Springs, Missouri. Our wildlife sighting of the day was two deer in the park.

Day 28: Wildlife Sightings on the way to Liard River Hotsprings

Day 28: Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Ft. Nelson, BC to Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park, BC. Site 42. 190 miles traveled.

What better way to relax after 28 days on the road than to soak in hot springs? That hot water was just calling to me all day. To get there, we had to travel 190 miles of winding roads to cross the Rocky Mountains.

While driving along we were on the lookout for wildlife. And there was plenty to see.

We had made reservations to stay in the Provincial Park – like a state park in the U.S. – and didn’t know what to expect. There were no hookups so we would be using our generator for the first time on this trip. When we saw our site, we were so glad we had decided to stay for 2 nights. With a long, very wide gravel pad and picnic table all surrounded by trees and wildflowers, it was the perfect place to take a break from traveling. A soak in the hot springs was a perfect ending to the day.

Day 23: Exploring Jasper National Park

Day 23: Friday, June 7, 2013

This elk was there to greet me as Blondie and I took our morning walk
This elk was there to greet me as Blondie and I took our morning walk

Blondie and I were surprised to find an elk next to the dumpster in the campground as we made our morning walk! I didn’t even see her until we were very close to her. What a great way to start the day!

The rain started coming down as we were ready to go out and explore the area. The town of Jasper has a few blocks of restaurants and shops. We enjoyed a nice breakfast at LuLu’s Cafe and did a little shopping at an outdoor outfitters shop. We had the same idea as many other people and went to the Visitor’s Center to check email. The place was packed with many people checking their phones, computers, and tablets for news from home. The connection was slow so we gave up and decided to go on a drive recommended by the clerk at the outdoor store.

Bear are frequently sighted on the Marmot Basin drive so off we went in search of bear. The narrow road climbs to a ski area which is closed for the season. It winds beside rivers and lakes with views of the mountains. There were no bears but it was fun looking.

At the end of the road we came to Athabasca Falls. There are easy walking trails for exploring both sides of the falls.

Four elk awaited us at the entrance to our camping loop when we returned. They were resting in the grass around two empty campsites. Such a great way to end the day!

Day 22: Ice, Snow and Glaciers along the Icefields Parkway

Day 22: Thursday, June 6, 2013. Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff to Whistler’s Campground in Jasper National Park via the Icefields Parkway. Site 63H. About 180 miles traveled.

I am posting this from an RV park in Dawson Creek, BC. Unfortunately, the internet connection is slow so I won’t be able to post pictures. To see the route we have taken from Georgia to here, click here to check out our updated map

Another WOW day in the Canadian Rockies and another beautiful drive. The Icefields Parkway takes you beside turquoise glacial lakes, glaciers, and snow covered mountains. There are scenic turnouts along the way where the views are jaw dropping.

Stopping at Crowfoot Glacier and ice covered Bow Lake, and walking on the trail to dark blue-green Peyto Lake, were just a few highlights of the day. After lunch at the Columbia Icefield, we arrived at the campground to see elk in the campground. It is calving season and we were cautioned to keep our distance from the elk as the mothers are very protective of their young.

I will post pictures when I can. I’m now 4 days behind in the posts…