Cataloochee is a lesser known auto tour in the GSMNP. Much like Cades Cove, it was a valley community in the mountains that was self-sufficient with churches, farms and clusters of mountain homes. When the park service came in and started to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park they people were forced to leave and the park took over the buildings, making them into living history that you can now drive through to experience a taste of what their lives might have been like. Now, Cataloochee grows in popularity each year and with the establishment of a herd of elk in the valley, it is no wonder that people are visiting it more and more.
The Cataloochee Valley derives its name from the Cherokee word Gadalutsi which most likely referred to the trees that line the ridges surrounding the valley. The Cherokee used this valley as a hunting ground for elk and deer before the European settlers came to the area. When the first settlers saw the beautiful valley of Cataloochee they knew that they had found a home in the Smoky Mountains. From using the fields around the ridges for free range cattle to graze to actually moving into the valley itself to establish communities, Cataloochee became a thriving town in the Smokies complete with churches, a schoolhouse and much more. The people of Cataloochee were the first to embrace the sound to be founded tourism industry in the mountains. City Folk came to the area to experience the mountains and the town embraced them and their money.
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, it was decided that Cataloochee would become a part of the National Park. The people of the valley protested the inclusion and though some of them choose to fight, by the 1940s most of the people had moved out of the valley. The Department of the Interior gave the people that wanted to stay lifetime leases and all of these have since expired and there are no longer any people living in the valley of Cataloochee. Cataloochee is now the least known auto tour in the park but though it is not as traveled, it is just as beautiful as Cades Cove.
In 2001, the Park Service began a program of reintroducing elk into the National Park. The elk herds in the park are doing well but none of them are doing as well as the herd in Cataloochee. It is possible to see dozens of these majestic creatures as they roam the fields in and around Cataloochee. During the rut in the fall, the bull elk begin to bugle as they try to court a mate for the season. There are many people that bring a lawn chair and a picnic lunch so that they can sit in the great outdoors and enjoy the elk of cataloochee.
Cataloochee needs to be on your list of places to visit the next time you are in the Smokies. Take a day and head into the mountains. You can reach it by going to I-40 and driving into North Carolina or you can go to Cosby, TN and follow Hwy 32 into the mountains following the signs on a very rustic road. Either way you are in for a treat once you make it to Cataloochee.