Explore Cataloochee Valley


Added by Robin Pfeifer

Preserved homes, churches, barns and schools of the valley's former residents. Flourishing elk population. Crowd-free exploration.

History, solitude and wildlife abound in this quiet corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but getting here is not easy. Take the scenic route via Cove Creek Road from Cosby, TN. Drive 40 miles along the twisting, gravel road to Cataloochee, NC. The scenery along the way is outstanding, but this drive is not for those who are sensitive to motion sickness.

After bouncing over rocks and winding around curves for an hour, you'll start to descend into the Cataloochee Valley. Nestled inside some of the tallest mountains in the southeastern United States, the valley was once a thriving community. In 1910, approximately 1,200 people lived, worked, worshiped and went to school here. Few people remained in the area after the establishment of the national park in 1934.

All that remains today are a handful of homes and barns, two churches, and a school scattered across the Little and Big Cataloochee valleys. There are no tour guides present to usher you through the structures and no ropes restricting access to certain areas. Unlike the very popular Cades Cove area, there are virtually no crowds to compete with either, so you can explore the well-preserved buildings at your leisure.

In Big Cataloochee you'll find homes with wallpapered bedrooms, kitchens with dining room tables, and barns stocked with hay and old equipment. The Beech Grove School has desks organized in neat rows facing the chalkboard. And the Palmer Chapel has an open Bible on its pulpit.

Perhaps the valley's best-known attraction is its flourishing elk population. Once prevalent in the region, elk were eradicated by the 1700s due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. The National Park Service began returning elk to the Cataloochee Valley in 2001 and the population has been growing ever since. They can be a bit illusive to spot, but if you arrive early in the morning or remain into the evening you may be able to see a herd grazing alongside wild turkeys in the fields.

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🥇Top Contributor

7 months ago

Very relaxing place

This place is truly amazing! Unfortunately recently there was a flood that washed out the last mile of road so you have to park and walk but its worth it.

🥇Top Contributor

8 months ago

East Coast Elk

The elk make this place pretty unique. There aren't many places on the east coast with elk, so its fun to come here, take in the area and see them roam (especially during the rut).

🥈 Contributor

over 2 years ago

Simple and Worth It

Cataloochee is a place I grew up camping every year as a kid. It's an awesome place to explore and camp with a family or by yourself. Take a few hours to go explore, hike or just drive, you won't regret it. And the Elk and big fall colors throughout the valley are pretty sick.

The Elk Was The Highlight.

Loved it. I enjoyed shooing this place, but the best part was just as I was loading the last of my camera gear I heard something coming down the dirt road. It sounded like a car but the closer is got it turned to sounding like horses. Before I knew I they came running down the road. I had to jump in my car so fast I ended up in the back seat. Luckily I ended up still having my camera in my hand. I opened the sunroof in my car and stood up. There had to be over 30. The car was completely surrounded. I enjoyed every second of this place.

Neat Place

A neat little area to explore. There is a lot of grass and we took the dogs with us to run around too. The drive down to the valley has a neat overlook to check out too, so look for that!

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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