Get ready, animal lovers! Great Smoky Mountains National Park features one of the wildest and most beautiful experiences that happens every fall, right here in our wonderful state. The Elk Rut in Cherokee is the term for the fall breeding season. This is a time when the male bull elk blow their bugling trumpets to challenge other males and attract females. Their haunting calls echo through the Cherokee wilderness and leave you with a feeling of childlike wonder.
You might be wondering how there is a wild elk herd here in the mountains of North Carolina? Elk are actually a native species to these mountains. As the largest game animal on the east coast, elk were hunted to extinction in this region in the mid-1800s. More than a hundred years passed until, in 2001, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Park Service, and other partners joined together to restore wild elk to the Smokies in the Cataloochee Valley.
Their population has grown ever since, expanding from Cataloochee into Cherokee near the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. The best time to view them is early in the morning and late in the evening, but keep your distance because 50 yards is the law.
These majestic animals can weigh up to 700 pounds, and their spectacular antlers should amaze you as much as they should warn you to give the elk their space. It’s your privilege to live in a place where you can view them safely, and it’s truly a triumph of conservation that these pieces of history can live so closely to us in the Cherokee wilderness.
There is even more to this area than the elk. At the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic structures carefully preserved and relocated here for the community’s education and enjoyment. Cherokee itself is full of activities, including hiking, arts and crafts, shopping, fishing, and more!
So come to Cherokee or Cataloochee, and witness something amazing. Plan your visit and pack a picnic lunch from Ingles Market. Your weekend is waiting on the Ingles Open Road.
To learn more about Ingles Market, visit their website at ingles-markets.com.