Cataloochee Valley Elk

Clouds, Covid and an out of phase moon have ruined plans and made shooting nightscapes difficult the past month or so. I decided to try something different and finally make the trip up to the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. It's a prime spot to photography elk and has been on my bucket list for over a year.

I was lucky enough to get a site at the Cataloochee Campground so my youngest son and I loaded up and made the four and half hour drive. The last 45 minutes, up and over the mountain on a single lane dirt/gravel road is truly an experience. We arrived with just enough time to setup camp, fish for a few minutes and take a drive down the valley. There were a few elk moving around in the rapidly gathering darkness and I got some shots but nothing worth showing anyone.


Our camping history has not been great, I have never really been able to get much sleep. This trip was a little better so hopefully we are getting the kinks worked out. I did managed to get a few hours and we were up by 630, making coffee and getting ready head out to find some elk.

It was a bit foggy and we spent most of the morning trying to stay in front of the herd as it moved from one end of the valley to the other. My son did a little fishing and at one point we ended up almost walking into a cow elk that was bedded down by the creek. We backed out slowly and she didn't seem to really notice.


I got a lot of shots but never did see a bull elk. Another photographer said she had seen one earlier when we were at the other end but he was gone by the time we got to the spot. I did get some really close shots of a cow that was straggling behind the rest of the herd and came through by herself.

We finally made it back to camp, packed up, swam a little and then started the long drive back home. It was a quick trip and I have plans to head back up in September when the rut is on and the bulls are more active. I'd really love to hear them bugling down the valley.

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