Cataloochee Valley Guide – Explore the History and Beauty

Cataloochee Valley is a remote and scenic historic settlement, located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is located in the southeastern section of the park, on the North Carolina side, about 20 miles from the town of Maggie Valley NC.

The valley is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, black bears, deer, coyotes, and a variety of birds. It also offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

Cataloochee Valley is one of our favorite places to visit in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and we go often, and have been for more than 15 years.   We love seeing, watching, and photographing the Elk there.

Cataloochee Valley was once home to a small community of farmers and ranchers. The valley was settled in the early 1800s by European Americans, who displaced the Cherokee who had previously inhabited the area. The National Park Service acquired most of the land in Cataloochee Valley in the 1950s, and the valley is now a popular recreation destination.

If you are looking for a simply beautiful place to explore the Smoky Mountains , Cataloochee Valley is a fantastic option. This guide will explore all that there is to see and do in Cataloochee Valley, and help you get there as well!

Updated: 6/9/2023

Where is Cataloochee Valley?

One the things we really like about Cataloochee Valley is that it's still pretty remote and many feel it's difficult to get to.  

Cataloochee Valley is located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina side, near Maggie Valley NC.

Directions to Cataloochee Valley

Access into Cataloochee Valley is through Cove Creek Road, which is considered by most to be a crude dirt/gravel road, full of twists and turns and large potholes.   Cove Creek Road is accessible from Jonathan Creek Road, exit 20 off I-40 near Maggie Valley NC.  You'll see signs right after you pass under I-40.

From Maggie Valley to Cataloochee Valley, you'll take Soco Rd (Highway 19) in Maggie, to the stoplight at Highway 276, turn left and go to just before I-40 and take a left, just past the two gas stations on the left.  This will be Cove Creek Road.

Follow Cove Creek Road until it becomes a gravel road, then continue through along this stretch which is very curvy and narrow.  When you reach a T intersection with a paved road, head left.  

Sun beams shine down on Cataloochee Valley Entrance Road

Along the way you'll pass a beautiful overlook, then the Cataloochee Valley Campground, followed by the Ranger station.  You'll arrive in the main area of Cataloochee Valley, and the location where you will generally see the Elk.

Here's a video of the drive into Cataloochee that we recorded one time driving in.  We put this video together so that you could see what the actual drive is like.   We hope this helps you!

When is the best time to visit Cataloochee Valley

Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Honestly, anytime of the year is great, and each season has it's own unique reason to visit Cataloochee Valley.  Most would agree though that Spring and Fall are the best times to visit.  

In the Spring, you can see tons of spring wildflowers growing and blooming in Cataloochee Valley.   Late Spring is also when the new Elk calves are born, and you can sometimes see them with their mothers as well.

The Fall is our personal preference due the beauty of the Fall Colors, and Elk Rut.  More on Elk Rut below and in our Elk Guide.

History of Cataloochee Valley

Caldwell House

Caldwell House, taken from inside Caldwell Barn

Cataloochee Valley was once home to a large community and even once a Cherokee Indian hunting ground.    Henry Colwell (later changed to Caldwell) purchased land in 1834 and later moved his family into the area in 1834.  Young Bennett and family came along with the Caldwell family.  

Both families settled in Big Cataloochee where their families and decedents remained until they were forced out by the government when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was established in the early 1930s.

Cataloochee Valley contains a number of old homes that you can still see and walk through.  All built in the late 1800s.  The Caldwell house was built by Hiram Caldwell in 1898 - 1903.   Woody house and was built by Steve Woody in 1880.  The Woody house is accessible via a short hike on Rough Fork Trail.

Woody House

Woody House

Cataloochee Valley also contains historic churches, a schoolhouse, and a number of old barns and outbuildings.

Cataloochee was a truly remote, and self-sustaining Appalachian Community.  Families raised animals, hunted, farmed, and had fruit orchards.  Spring houses and home storage areas were used to keep food products and canned goods to use during the winter.  

They were also traders, often trading with nearby communities and even the Cherokee Indians.  Cataloochee was true country living, and far more difficult than we know country living today.

Our Cataloochee Valley Videos

Here is a video we put together, highlighting all the great things to see and do in Cataloochee Valley, including Elk bugling:

Here is a drive video showing the back mountain road you have to take to reach Cataloochee Valley.

Hike Rough Fork trail out to the historic Woody House with us.

Road repairs on the road through Cataloochee Valley.  The main road was significantly washed out due to flooding and closed for over a year!

Highlights of our footage from Elk Rut 2021.

Our first visit to Cataloochee Valley in 2021

Elk Rut in Cataloochee Valley - An amazing time to see the Elk.

Early Elk Rut in 2021 - The Bulls were already beginning to show sign of being territorial.

Driving into Cataloochee Valley, surrounded by Fall Colors.

Cataloochee Valley was closed during the Covid Pandemic, and this is our first visit just after it re-opened.

Things to do in Cataloochee Valley

There are tons of things to do in Cataloochee Valley.  We've been a number of times, and still, haven't seen or done all there is to do.

1 - Cataloochee Valley Elk Watching

One of the biggest attractions for Cataloochee Valley, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park overall, are the Elk.  Visitors travel from all around the work to the valley for Elk watching.

In February 2001, 25 Elk where released into the valley.  Today, nearly 20 years later, the Elk have prospered, and at least 150 roam the park, many of them in Cataloochee Valley.

- See our Elk Guide -

Learn all about the Elk of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in our comprehensive Elk Guide!   Full of history, information, viewing tips, safety tips, location information, best times to see them, and of course photos and video.

Cataloochee Valley Elk Photos from Elk Watching

Here are a few photos of the Elk in Cataloochee Valley from our many excursions there for Elk Watching: 

Elk Videos:

2 - Explore the Historical Structures

There are a number of historical structures in the valley that date back to pre-park periods.  Most of the structures are 20th-century buildings and look fairly modern.   There are a few older structures, Cook Cabin and Hannah Cabin are more 1800s looking structures.  

Here are a few photos of the structures you can expect to see when visiting.

Caldwell House

Caldwell House

Palmer Chapel Cataloochee Valley

Palmer Chapel

Palmer House Cataloochee Valley

Palmer House

Woody House

Woody House

Hannah Cabin in Little Cataloochee Valley

Hannah Cabin

Little Cataloochee Baptist Church

Little Cataloochee Baptist Church

3 - Hiking in Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is the starting point for a number of great hiking trails, including:

4 - Fishing in Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Fly Fishing

Cataloochee Valley streams are a very popular place to go fishing and fly fishing.   These creeks have been fished by the original settlers from the very beginning, and actively fished over the years into modern day as well.   

You can expect to catch lots of trout, including brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout.    Either a NC or TN fishing license is required with a trout option.

5 - Camping in Cataloochee Valley - Cataloochee Campground

Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is home to one of the nicest campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Cataloochee campground is a beautiful and well maintained creekside campground is very close to the main Elk viewing area for the Valley, and is nestled into the woods for lots of shade and cool temperatures.  

Cataloochee campground contains 27 different sites, and all are by reservation only.

6 - Horseback Riding in Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley Horse Camp

Cataloochee Valley also offers both a horse camp area, and a number of horseback riding trails that are the most coveted horse trails in the park.  

You'll love the cool and shady canopy, and creekside camping offered.

7 - Visit Cataloochee Valley Overlook

Cataloochee Valley Overlook at Sunset

Cataloochee Valley Overlook is a scenic overlook located in Cataloochee and on the main entrance road going in.

The overlook offers beautiful long distance views of Cataloochee Valley, including the Cataloochee Divide and the Great Smoky Mountains.   The views from the parking area are pretty, but you can walk up a short but steep paved trail to an observation area that provides the best views.  There is a nice bench here for sitting and enjoying the views.

The overlook is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. The overlook is also a popular spot for photographers, especially for sunsets.

Cataloochee Valley FAQ

Here are some common questions and answers about Cataloochee Valley:

Can you drive through Cataloochee Valley?

Yes, you can drive through Cataloochee Valley. There are two main roads that go through the valley: Cove Creek Road and Old Cataloochee Road. Cove Creek Road is the main road and is paved. Old Cataloochee Road is a gravel road and is not as well-maintained.

There is no loop, the drive ends at the Rough Fork hiking trail trailhead, where you can turn around.

When can you see elk in Cataloochee Valley?

There are generally two best times to see the elk in Cataloochee Valley:

  • Morning: The elk are most active in the morning, when they are grazing in the meadows.
  • Evening: The elk are also active in the evening, when they are returning to their bedding areas.

However, you can also see elk throughout the day, especially in the fall when they are in rut. The rut is the breeding season for elk, and during this time the bulls will be more active and vocal. They will also be more likely to spar with other bulls.

The best place to see the Elk are in the large fields along the main road through Cataloochee Valley.

Are there elk in Cataloochee Valley?

Yes, there are elk in Cataloochee Valley. The elk were reintroduced to the valley in 2001 as part of a project to restore the natural ecosystem of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

The elk herd has since grown to over 150 animals, and they can be seen grazing in the meadows and fields of the valley.

Are there bears in Cataloochee?

Yes, there are bears in Cataloochee Valley. The National Park is home to a large population of black bears, and Cataloochee Valley is one of their favorite hangouts.

Bears are attracted to Cataloochee Valley because it offers them a variety of food sources, including acorns, berries, and insects. They also find shelter in the valley's dense forests and abundant wildlife.

The best time to see bears in Cataloochee Valley is during the spring and fall, when they are most active. They can be seen foraging for food in the meadows and fields, or resting in the shade of the trees.

Final Thoughts on Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is a beautiful, unique and historic place to visit.  As you drive down Cataloochee Rd into the Valley, you will feel like you are being transported back in time.

The valley offers a variety of recreational opportunities and is home to a variety of wildlife. We encourage you to visit Cataloochee Valley and experience its beauty for yourself.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when planning your visit to Cataloochee Valley:

  • The best time to visit is during the spring or fall, when the weather is mild and the wildflowers are in bloom.
  • There are a number of hiking trails in Cataloochee Valley, ranging from easy to challenging.
  • If you are planning to camp in Cataloochee Valley, be sure to get a permit from the National Park Service.
  • There are a number of places to stay in Cataloochee Valley, including lodges, cabins, and campgrounds.
  • Always maintain a safe distance from the Elk.  They are wild, and never feed them.
About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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