Each Autumn, the Cataloochee Valley area of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the elk rut begins. The valley echoes with the distinct bugling sound of the males, which serves two purposes. First, to attract the female elk, or cows, for breeding. The second reason for their call is to challenge other bulls for the breeding rights of the harem.
The elk were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park back in 2001, when 25 were brought from the Tennessee/Kentucky border. Then, in 2002, another 27 were brought in. The native elk in the valley and park were believed to have been killed off in the late 1700s. Today, the elk are thriving in the park, especially in Cataloochee Valley.
Each morning and late afternoon, the elk can been seen making their way through the fields, grazing and sometimes if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a calf feeding from its mother.
The trip to Cataloochee Valley from Franklin is approximately an hour and a half, but the drive is scenic, through the Balsam Gap corridor of Highway 74 East in to Waynesville. Directions to the valley can be found on the National Park’s website here: Cataloochee Valley via I-40. You can also get there via the Lake Junaluska/Maggie Valley exit off of Highway 74, then to Highway 276 North and on to Cove Creek Road. To read more about the history of the elk in the Great Smoky Mountains, visit the National Park Service site here: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/elk-facts.htm.
Snapshots From Franklin, NC is provided by funding from the Franklin/Nantahala TDC in association with the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. Photographs, text, and video by Eric Haggart.