Peak Colors and Bugling Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains NP

October 27 – We drove to Cataloochee with a picnic lunch… A little history of Cataloochee Valley is in order here. Native Americans were the first people to visit this valley. There is evidence that the Cherokee hunted and fished here, but did not settle here permanently. White settlers pushed into the valley in the early 1800s. At that time, all of the valley belonged to Colonel Robert Love, a post-Revolutionary War land speculator who granted homesteads to those who would settle and improve the land. By the 1850s Cataloochee was well populated, but not full. For more than 100 years, Cataloochee grew and prospered. Permanent settlers arrived in the 1830s, building homes, Churches, schools and roads. The 1910 Census recorded 1,250 people in the valley — the largest single community in what would later become Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Along the way to Cataloochee, we stopped at Soco Falls on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The trail wasn’t well maintained, and very steep so I sent the camera down with John and waited for him at the trailhead. I’m really glad I didn’t attempt it – John reported that the trail became steeper, and then there was a section where you went straight down holding a rope. John made the wise decision not to go down to the splash pool of the waterfall. He reported that the drop of the water over the falls was about 75-100 feet, with many cascades of water, along the stone shelves. From his photos, I missed a beauty!

We continued along Hwy 19 through Maggie Valley, past produce stands selling apples and cider. The trees along our way were showing some great color.

We started seeing lots of maple trees, at about 3500 feet after entering the park. Beautiful Yellow Maples, Sugar Maples and Red Maples – all at peak color. the roadway turned from asphalt to gravel and the area was very dry and dusty. We were driving along the extremely curvy dirt road, with lots of blind curves. Beautiful fall colors around every bend, but it was hard to capture with all the dust from vehicles ahead of us on the road. We stopped at the overlook, for a sweeping view of the colorful mountains. Ladybugs were everywhere, flying around and landing on clothes, and hair. Little orange ladybugs with lots of black spots. And, no, I didn’t take a picture!

There is a large grassy meadow where the elk are known to frequent and we set up quad chairs and enjoyed the sunny day. We saw one large bull elk here, sleeping at the far edge of the grass, in the shade of the woods. Sadly my zoom isn’t enough to make him out… (I was sure it was a piece of wood till he finally moved his head.) The elk finally rose up and sauntered over to the other elk in the woods by the Palmer Chapel, bugling all the way! I really thought we were too late in the season to see any rutting or hear elk bugling. (The only other time we saw elk in the rutting season was in Yellowstone, some years back, and that was amazing. We were camped near where the action was and we watched each evening… )

John and I weren't the only people interested in the elk and these guys were way too close!

John and I weren’t the only people interested in the elk and these guys were way too close!

the bull on the left was bugling...

the bull on the left was bugling…

some of the herd crossed the road in front of our truck, headed to the creek for a drink

some of the herd crossed the road in front of our truck, headed to the creek for a drink

bull chasing a female...

bull chasing a female…

this bull wanted that mare, but had no luck

this bull wanted that mare, but had no luck

It was time to head back to camp… We had an exciting time with the elk today (last year we saw a large herd in Cataloochee but they were contentedly eating grass, and not much else). Today, the herd moved over by the chapel, and we bid them adieu, hoping none of the people with cameras got too close to an elk while capturing that photo.

About Holly Ritger

I am retired, enjoying being a grandmother, traveling to National Parks and other interesting places in our RV with my husband of 43 years, and visiting with friends and family. Hobbies: photography, learning about wildflowers and birds, and trees, and reading from my kindle.
This entry was posted in Fall Color, Great Smoky Mtn NP and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Peak Colors and Bugling Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains NP

  1. tybeegal says:

    Great Elk pictures Holly. I so enjoyed hearing the Elk bugling in Colorado when we traveled through for Eliza’s birth. Glad the Elk gave you a bigger thrill this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holly Ritger says:

      Elk bugling is something everyone should experience, Sherry. I only wish we had been in time for the main event. But, coming to the Smokies a little later meant we saw wonderful fall colors. Guess you can’t have both unless you stay in the Smokies for a couple months in the fall : )


  2. Love the Elk pictures!


    • Holly Ritger says:

      Thanks Beth. We were just lucky to see and hear them. If we had stayed just a couple days longer, we would have seen them in the snow. I haven’t really experienced the parks with snow and it would be beautiful to see the animals out in it. But, I am happy we were home when the storm hit… They got a lot of snow up there and all the roads were closed.


  3. Ingrid says:

    Witnessing Elk up close and hearing them bugle is always a special treat. How wonderful that you got a chance to see and hear them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. says:

    Hi Holly & John,

    We are so glad you are having an amazing trip & enjoying our beautiful country. Be Safe, Ann & Frank


    • Holly Ritger says:

      Thanks Ann & Frank.

      Ann, I hope you’re doing better after that infection. Just when you think all is going well, something rears its ugly head to challenge you. Stay strong kiddo, and I hope you’re feeling lots better soon.


  5. placestheygo says:

    Gorgeous leaves!! I love the reds and oranges.

    That was very nice of John to risk his life getting the beautiful waterfall photos:)

    I never get tired of seeing elk. That one bull had quite the harem. What a stud!! We experienced our first rut season in Jasper NP. That bugling is so awesome! Glad you were there to witness it:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holly Ritger says:

      Thank you! I’m enjoying checking out your past posts on “Seize the Day”…

      If you’re still looking for CA ideas, we really enjoyed exploring the State and National Red Wood Parks near Crescent City. I had seen smaller groves in Muir Woods and southern California but I was blown away by 40,000 acres of virgin growth redwoods cobbled together in the north! I had no idea these parks existed, as you mostly hear of the smaller parks…


  6. Pingback: Cataloochee Valley Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Wandering Dawgs

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