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Posted on 12/30/2021

4 Tips for Seeing Elk in Cherokee, NC



1. The Elks’ Return

Though elk were native here, they disappeared for two centuries, hunted almost to extinction by about 1800. Today’s elk are descendants of a herd introduced in 2001, to see if elk could thrive here in the wild again. Today, about 140 elk live here.


2. Where to Spot Elk

Elk graze near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, along Route 441. At the nearby Mountain Farm Museum, elk feed near the historic homesteads.

Along the Oconaluftee River Trail, you might glimpse elk in the woods and river, particularly in the fall.  

North of Cherokee, explore the Cataloochee Valley, where the park service first reintroduced elk. Look for Cataloochee Entrance Road, which winds into the valley. Search for Cataloochee Campground as a reference point.


3. Best Viewing Times

In winter, male (or “bull”) elk head deeper into the mountains, making them tougher to find, but females and their young, called cows and calves, graze in groups in winter and are easier to spot.

In spring, summer, and fall, elk graze at cooler times of the day. Your best chances of seeing them are in the early mornings or late afternoons. Fall is rutting season, and visitors might hear the bulls’ “bugling,” their unique mating call.


4. Stay Safe

Elk are the largest animals in the national park. A bull elk can weigh up to 800 pounds and a cow up to 600 pounds. Cows protect their young, and bulls defend their territories, so keep your distance to stay safe and stay legal: State regulations say you must stay at least 150 feet away from elk. If you notice a calf on its own, don’t approach it. Its mother is probably close by. 

Never feed elk. Feeding encourages them to become used to humans, which isn’t safe for animals or people. 

Take plenty of photos and tell your friends about these grazing giants of the Smokies. When your outing to Cherokee is done, head back to your cabin. Reserve your cabin now and add elk viewing to your Gatlinburg vacation.

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