Unplug for the Day . . . Cataloochee
Tucked away off the I-40 between Asheville, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee is the breathtaking valley of Cataloochee. Surrounded by 6000 ft. peaks, this well protected and preserved valley is part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With our daughter’s horse show schedule and my love of wildlife, this has become an annual pilgrimage for our family.
In 2001 and 2002, the National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other partners reintroduced elk into this beautiful valley. Over 200 years ago, elk roamed this area of the southern Appalachian Mountains, but due to overhunting and loss of habitat, the herd was eliminated. As the elk were reintroduced into the area and as they were born, the elk were fitted with radio and GPS collars biologists use to monitor population and movement.
In addition to the elk herd, a variety of historic late 19th century, early 20th century frame buildings, including a school house and church have been well preserved on the property. Also, they have a parking area and beautiful trails for those who enjoy horseback riding. Winding through the valley is a peaceful, naturally stocked stream . . . so for the fishermen in your family, check into a National Park Service fishing permit and bring their trout fishing gear. The National Park Service has been thoughtful to include a few picnic tables in the park, but there are many lush fields and panoramic views for a comfy picnic blanket or travel chairs.
If you want an opportunity to unplug your children and offer them a place to roam for a few hours, add a half-day trip to Cataloochee!
Things to Know . . .
Unplug – You might have thought I was referring to this as a discipline of self- control, but seriously, you will unplug. Once you are deep into the park, you will lose cell signal; therefore, make any necessary preparations ahead of time, then go ahead and turn off your phone to preserve your battery.
Drive Time – With each visit, it seems that the trip gets quicker and quicker; although, it is a little bit of a drive into the park. The National Park Service has greatly improved the roads since our earliest visits, but you will still travel a narrow, curvy, paved & dirt county road until you reach the service road. On our latest visit, I did notice a small, foreign-made, convertible roadster handling the roads just fine . . . Just know ahead of time – it is curvy! Also, especially during peak season (late September through early October), please practice much patience and take/give – some areas of the county road are still one lane.
Elk Safety – The recommended safe range for viewing or photographing elk in the park is 50 yards. Fortunately/Unfortunately, these beautiful mammals have become well acquainted with humans; although, I have noticed some photographers dangerously close to the elk. They are still WILD animals. (Funny side note: As I was exiting one of the “off the main path” bathrooms, to my surprise was a young bull approximately 20 feet from me . . . I think we were both a little surprised!). . . Which leads me to . . .
Bathrooms – The bathrooms are considered “vault toilets” which means there is no flushing or running water, so please pack wipes or hand sanitizer for your hands. In addition, there is only a choice of two gas stations on the I-40 exit for Cataloochee, so plan ahead.
Gas Stations – Once in the park, you will be approximately 10 miles to the nearest gas station; therefore, gas up your vehicle before heading into the park.
Finally, go and enjoy!
Some great links with additional information: