One our favorite places to visit in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is Cataloochee Valley. The drive there is beautiful, and there is so much to do once you're there.
History of Cataloochee Valley
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.
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.
Where is Cataloochee Valley?
One the things we really like about Cataloochee valley is that it's still pretty remote. Cataloochee Valley is located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina side, near Maggie Valley NC.
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. You'll see signs right after you pass under I-40.
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.
Along the way you'll pass a beautiful overlook, then the Campground, followed by the Ranger station. This is the main area of Cataloochee Valley, and the location where you will generally see the Elk.
Here's a video of the drive in:
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.
See the Elk!
One of the biggest attractions for Cataloochee Valley, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park overall, are the Elk.
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.
Here are a few photos of the Elk in Cataloochee Valley:
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.
Little Cataloochee Baptist Church
Hiking in Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Valley is the starting point for a number of great hiking trails, including:
Fishing in Cataloochee Valley
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.
Camping in Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Valley is home to one of the nicest campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 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.
The campground contains 27 different sites, and all are by reservation only.
Horseback Riding in Cataloochee Valley
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.