See elk grazing in the meadows (and sometimes walking through town) in Cherokee. After being reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cataloochee Valley in 2001, many of the elk have migrated toward Cherokee during the last few years. They usually show up very early in the morning and the last hour or two before sunset in the large meadow next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum at the Park entrance on US 441 / Newfound Gap Road.
Rangers often block off one of the two northbound lanes for cars to park roadside to watch the elk graze and interact. Visitors can also watch safely from the center parking area or the farm. The elk are accustom to people, but remember that they are wild. It's illegal to come within 150 feet of the elk. Use binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views.
Elk have roamed throughout Cherokee, including down the street and the Oconaluftee River. They are also seen in other meadows on Newfound Gap Road and Big Cove Road. You can also watch elk in the scenic Cataloochee Valley (read more).
Most evenings during spring, summer and fall, volunteers and rangers answer questions and advise on safe distances. In September and early October, the male elk make their legendary bugling sounds during the "rut" to attract cows. They also spar with each other. During this time, the 600-700 pound males can be aggressive to protect their territory.
Elk roamed the Great Smoky Mountains and throughout United States until they over-hunted and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was killed in the late 1700s. The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February 2001 with 25 elk. By 2016, the number has grown to almost 200.
Elk at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Herds of up to 30 elk stops traffic, but noone seems to mind.
About 52 miles from downtown, allow 1.5 hours to travel. Take I-40 West to Exit 27. Follow US Highway 74 to Cherokee and follow Highway 441 North.
Street address: 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719
For more information, see our Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Farm Museum Guide and our Top 20 Things to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains.