with the Elk
may have heard of "Breakfast at Tiffany's", the
Breakfast of Champions and the Breakfast Club, however in Cataloochee
of the Great Smokies, it's "Breakfast with the Elk".
February 2, 2001, 25 elk were released in the Cataloochee area of
the Great Smoky
Mountain National Park. Amid hundreds of onlookers, the elk dashed
into their holding pen and waited for the release into the 500,000+-acre
first year in the park has been very successful for the elk and
has even included new additions to the herd. Several calves have
been born and aside from some males temporarily wandering outside
of the park, the elk have remained close to the original holding
This herd of elk was moved from the US Forest Service property in
Kentucky named the Land Between the Lakes. There the elk were exposed
to humans and as a result they are not fearful of man.
This lack of fear affords good viewing of the elk in the Cataloochee
Area. They are usually spotted at dusk and dawn, the best time to
view most wildlife. The herd can be seen grazing in the fields that
make up a large portion of Big Cataloochee Valley.
the morning that these photos were shot we made it a breakfast trip
to Cataloochee. After gathering a thermos of steaming coffee and
a bag full of country-sized biscuits we headed for Cataloochee.
Our destination was the giant field at the end of the road in this
remote valley. We didn't make it that far. As we passed the
ranger station, several elk were standing in the middle of the road
gawking at a couple from Florida. The couple was amazed at the size
of the large buck guarding his herd. As the buck observed the visitors
to his turf, the women spoke to him as though he was an infant.
Each time the woman spoke; he would cock his head and gaze at her
quizzically. I wanted to warn the woman of the dangers of a buck
in rut but the large animal looked curious and not dangerous! It
was breathtaking to watch the huge buck throw back his head and
"bugle" to warn the younger males and any other trespassers
away from his harem. We even had one adult female come up and sniff
the hood of our car. All it would have taken was to simply reach
out through the window to touch her. However, keep in mind that
these are wild animals. Familiarity with humans has caused many
problems in the park with several species, such as bears and the
attempt to reinstate the red wolf.
the sun climbed in the sky the elk slowly wandered out of sight
and into the dense forest. We were so star struck that our coffee
and biscuits had become cold.
viewed at sunup and sundown, the elk can be seen almost daily. It
is illegal to use artificial light to take pictures. (No flash!)
is also illegal to approach or otherwise harass the elk. They are
wild animals and as cute as they may appear they are also the one
of the more potentially dangerous animals in the park. A charge
by a large male with antlers can prove to be fatal. Too
much familiarity with humans could also jeopardize the success of
35 miles from Asheville, Cataloochee is very easy to find. Take
exit 23 in Interstate 40. The Cove Creek Road exit is also the exit
for RT. 276. Turn right on Cove Creek Road as soon as you exit the
interstate. Follow Cove Creek Road for seven miles to the park entrance.
Beware of precipitous drop offs and the absence of a shoulder in
most sections of the road. Many cars have plunged off of the edge.
Once in the park it is another 5 miles until you reach the paved
road. As you enter the paved section, the road to the right has
a sign that shows Mt. Sterling to be 20 miles. Take this branch
to go to "Little Cataloochee". Continue to the left on
the paved road to reach "Big Cataloochee". Be sure to
stop at the first parking area on the right. Walk up the sloped
and fenced walkway to take in the view of this beautiful and lush
(Car Camping) 27 sites, elev. 2,610', $12, open March 16 to
Nov. 1, 31' RVs
for camping: 1-800-365-2267 (park code GRE)
you're camping in the Backcountry there are some great sites
in the Cataloochee Area. Two of them are just short walks from the
trailhead. Before you head into the backcountry to camp you must
obtain a free camping permit.
more information on park road conditions, call the park at