Summer visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park can reward you with ample sights of wildlife, from black bears and white-tailed deer to salamanders and hawks. But if it's elk you want to see, now is the time to head into the park's Cataloochee Valley.
While elk were native to the Smokies, they long ago were hunted to extinction in the region. In the park that dilemma began to be reversed in 2001 when an elk recovery program was started. It proved very successful, with more than 100 elk now roaming the park's mountains.
Come September and into October these majestic animals are highly visible in the Cataloochee Valley where they come to mate. As with other wildlife, usually the best time to spot the elk is early in the morning or late in the afternoon or early in the evening.
If you can't see them, you just might hear them, as the bulls bugle to attract mates and build their harems of females.
A good pair of binoculars or a good camera with a long lens will help you watch these animals. Just remember to keep your distance. Elk can be particularly testy during the rut and more apt to charge you if you get too close.