September visit to Cataloochee Valley

Published 6:02 pm Friday, September 7, 2012

A bugling bull elk. (photo submitted by Rob McComas)

If you are looking for a day getaway, you might want to consider Cataloochee Valley. Located in the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee Valley is a great place to spend the day.
September is one of my favorite times to visit the valley. The mornings and evenings are noticeably, cooler, and the valleys most famous residents, elk, begin their annual ritual of courtship.
The valley is the best location to view the park’s elk. Reintroduced to the area in 2001, the elk herd has grown to well over 100.
The bull elk start their famous “bugling” in September to challenge other bulls, and gather as many cows as they can. A bull elk weighs an average of 600-700 lbs, is seven feet long, five feet tall, and antlers up to five feet wide. The bugle call can be heard up and down the valley up to one mile away.
There are several restrictions on how close you can approach an elk, but they are usually willing to be seen in the fields that line the valley floor, and on occasion, come rather close to onlookers.
If elk viewing is not your thing, there are plenty of hiking trails, historical structures from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and history to keep your interest. Churches, a school, homes and other structures are sprinkled along the valley floor.
If you are up for a few short but strenuous hikes, the many graveyards located high on the hills overlooking Cataloochee may be of some interest to you.
But I guess my favorite resident of the valley is the wild trout in the streams that meander through the draws that feed the valley. Fly fishing for wild trout in the mountains of Western North Carolina (WNC) is as about a relaxing of an experience as one can have.
Small by most people’s standards, wild rainbow, brown and native brook trout are treasured guests in our national park. The “experience” is of far more value than the fight. The wary prey must be stalked, and is keen on what fly they will take. But when done correctly, you can catch numbers of them. All of which, by my opinion, should be released.
Directions to Catalochee valley are: take interstate 40 west to exit 20. Travel a short distance on Hwy. 276 and turn right on Cove Creek Rd. and travel about 11 miles following signs. The road narrows to a single lane gravel road for much of the way so don’t be in a hurry.
Don’t forget a camera, binoculars and food and drinks. McDonald’s is not over the hill. The best times to me for viewing the elk are late in the evening, or a cloudy/rainy day.

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