A bull elk ushering one of his cows to get with the rest of the herd. Photo by Eric Haggart

Lying deep in the mountains of the most western part of North Carolina, about an hour and a half drive from Franklin, is the historic Cataloochee Valley. Located on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee Valley is again home to elk that once thrived in the area. This time of year in the valley is called the “rut”. The males are looking to dominate their herd and attract cows (female elk) to mate with. They announce their presence to the herd with a loud, and surprisingly high pitched bugle. The best times to see and hear the males is in the early morning and in the late evening. The bull elk also engage in a locking of antlers, fighting for supremacy and the attention of the cows.

The older males will have between 12-16 points on their sharp antler racks. Photo by Eric Haggart

The drive to Cataloochee Valley from Franklin takes you out of Franklin on US-23 N/US-441 N towards Sylva. You can use the link here: Franklin NC to Cataloochee Valley for directions from downtown Franklin via GPS using Google Maps on your Smartphone or Tablet. You can also print the directions if you’re viewing this on a desktop or laptop. IMPORTANT – there is NO CELL SERVICE in the valley, so make sure you have a good understanding of where you need to go. GPS will work into the valley, but once you reach the valley, you will not be able to restart a new set of directions. There are plenty of signs to guide you as well, so no need to panic.

Young calves still have their spots and are now mingling with the herd more. Photo by Eric Haggart

This time of year is also special in the valley as the summer air gets a little chilly, now that fall has settled in. The leaves are beginning to change, spots of color can be seen in the surround Great Smoky Mountains. The calves are getting bigger, though some still have their spots, they are getting more adventurous and staying with the herd more out in the open fields. When they are first born, mothers tend to keep their calves close to the tree line, to keep them safe from predators.

A young cow gets in between vehicles on the main road in the valley. Photo by Eric Haggart

The main thing to always remember is to stay back at least 50 yards from the elk. This is a major safety precaution, not only for the two legged humans, but to also keep the elk from having an incident or causing and injury to a person, or themselves. The elk are in their natural habitat, we have to respect their space and STAY BACK. Park Rangers and Volunteers are in the park monitoring the elk and ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience is had for all.

The end of another day in the valley has the herd grazing together. Photo by Eric Haggart

A trip over to Cataloochee Valley is a great way to spend a day exploring the history of the valley, the home sites, churches, barns and more. Explore the trails that take you along the paths that the original settlers took into the valley and home. Enjoy time being distracted by the constant barrage of cell phones and technology. Watch in amazement as the natural world happens in front of you, giving you a front row seat to the battle of the bull elk and know what is was like over 100 years ago for the people who lived there. There’s plenty to keep you busy for days, but you can also make it a half day trip and then loop around the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading back to Franklin to plan your next big adventure!