Why We Love It
We can't get enough of the Smokies, but we've been to Pigeon Forge one too many times (no offense, Dolly Parton). Fortunately, there are always new ways to experience the country's most visited national park, and Cataloochee Valley can provide the fresh perspective you're looking for.
In 2001, a population of elk was reintroduced to the valley as part of a National Park Service experimental program. Today, the growing herd roams the area and has given Cataloochee a new identity as a wildlife enthusiast's haven. As autumn approaches, visitors may hear the elk's mating "bugle" call or even witness two bull elk going at each other.
You can also tour some of the valley's 19th-century homes or take a self-guided car tour of the area. As a plus, the nearby Cataloochee Creek is considered to be the best trout-fishing location in the Smokies. If you don't mind the frigid mountain water, explore the creek and its tributaries to find the perfect spot for wading or putting in your kayak.
What To Expect
Cataloochee is sometimes called the "Cades Cove of North Carolina," but the similarities end with the areas' open fields, historic buildings and vast surrounding mountains; Cataloochee feels much more isolated. Primitive campgrounds are available for overnight guests, and the Boogerman Trail, a 7-mile loop, allows for your hiking pleasure.
We recommend that you don't try to touch or feed the elk, partly because they can be dangerous and partly because you could get arrested. In fact, it's illegal to knowingly get within 50 yards of them. For your best chances of seeing elk, bears and other species, keep your binoculars handy at sunrise and sunset, when many animals are most active.
Cataloochee Valley is about an hour's drive from more populated destinations like Asheville, Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C., all of which offer attractions and (slightly less rustic) lodging of their own. If you're planning a winter trip to the region, don't forget to hit the slopes at nearby Cataloochee Ski Area.