(Re)Living History in the Cataloochee Valley

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Road Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains

Day 6: Cosby, Tennessee to Cataloochee, North Carolina

Photography by Luke Daniel Photo

Robin&Luke_GreatSmokyMountains-10The drive from Cosby to Cataloochee is only about 40 miles, but Cove Creek Road is a narrow, twisting, gravel road that skates along the side of deep ravines and dips in and out of the backwoods. The scenery is outstanding, but this drive is not for those who are in a hurry or sensitive to motion sickness.

After bouncing over rocks and winding around curves for an hour, we descended into the Cataloochee Valley.

Robin&Luke_GreatSmokyMountains-6Nestled inside some of the tallest mountains in the southeastern United States, the valley was once a thriving community. In 1910, approximately 1,200 people lived, worked, worshiped and went to school here. Few people remained in the area after the establishment of the national park in 1934. All that remains today is a handful of homes and barns, two churches and a school scattered across Little and Big Cataloochee. There were no tour guides present to usher us through the structures and no ropes restricting access to certain areas. Unlike the very popular Cades Cove area, there were virtually no crowds to compete with either, so we explored the well-preserved buildings at our leisure.

Robin&Luke_GreatSmokyMountains-8Perhaps the valley’s best-known attraction is its flourishing elk population. Once prevalent in the region, elk were eradicated by the 1700’s due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. The National Park Service began reintroducing elk to the Cataloochee Valley in 2001 and the population has been growing ever since. They can be a bit illusive to spot, but if you arrive early in the morning or remain late into the day, you may be able to see a herd grazing alongside wild turkeys in the fields.

Shortly after a late-afternoon rainstorm, we saw two herds emerge from the woods to graze in the valley. On our way out of the park, we spotted a massive bull elk sitting just off the side of the road, presumably watching over his herd.

This semi-private tour of Big Cataloochee was one of the most peaceful experiences we had during our stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. Go now before others catch on.

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