After two days of elk watching in Cataloochee Valley we packed a lunch and set out from our campground in Waynesville for a 40 mile drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of fall colors.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile scenic parkway through the southern Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. The northernmost point of the parkway is Mile 0 in Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia. The southernmost point is Mile 469 near Cherokee, North Carolina. There are scenic overlooks, picnic areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds all along the way.
Although we have traversed several sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the past we had never been on the area in North Carolina north of the Highest Point at Mile 431. On our journey this time we traveled south from Mile 408 at Mount Pisgah to Maggie Valley at about Mile 455.
The first order of business was a picnic at the Mount Pisgah picnic area at the top of a short paved trail. After lunch under the trees we started our journey south, stopping at several of the scenic overlooks. It was too early in the year for the peak autumn colors but a few of the leaves were beginning to change.
Looking Glass Rock got it’s name because sunlight will reflect off the granite when there is water collected on it.
There was beautiful scenery every where we looked.
We found a few more fall colors.
There are many folktales surrounding the Devil’s Courthouse. It was getting late and we decided to skip the trail to the top.
The picture on the left was taken 8 years ago when we first stopped at the Highest Point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile 431. The one on the right from this visit.
Highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Highest Point on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The photo below is the view from the Highest Point.
A few clouds rolled in as we continued south,
Our home base for exploring Cataloochee Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway was Creekwood RV Park a few miles north of Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Our site backed up to a beautiful creek. It was a perfect place to relax after a day of wandering.
Beautiful Creek behind our campsite
Sitting by the creek was a great way to end each day
Duck in the creek behind our RV
Of course we had to try some North Carolina barbeque while were were there. The Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville was recommended and the spareribs, chicken, and brisket were done to perfection. And it turns out the owners are originally from Georgia!
Beautiful fall weather, bugling elk, scenic drives, camping beside a creek, and delicious barbeque. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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.
Hairpin Turn Cove Creek Road
Blind Curve Cove Creek Road
Cataloochee Valley Overlook Great Smoky Mountains
Cataloochee Valley Overlook Great Smoky Mountains
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caldwell Place in Cataloochee Valley
Old Barn in Cataloochee Valley
Start of one of the trails in Cataloochee Valley
Bridge at the beginning of one of the trails in Cataloochee Valley
We camped at Creekwood Farm RV Park in Waynesville, NC. The campground is less than a mile from the turnoff to Cove Creek Road.