Explore Cataloochee Valley
North Carolina › Cataloochee Valley
Added by Robin Pfeifer
Preserved homes, churches, barns and schools of the valley's former residentsFlourishing elk populationCrowd-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.
- Guide book detailing the valley's history
- Picnic lunch
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You have to love the Elk in cataloochee. Besides the wildlife it is just a beautiful place. For best chances at seeing a big bull, either visit in September or October, or visit right at first light or right at dusk.
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