Categories: Hiking & Backpacking, Horseback Riding, Picnic Areas, Places of Interest, Museums & Historic Sites, Frontcountry Camping, Backcountry Camping, Fishing for Wild Trout, Back Country Horse Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park... NC
Are you looking for some piece and quiet? Maybe interested in viewing some wildlife but don't want to sit in "Cades Cove Traffic?"
If you answered yes to either of these questions then we strongly recommend taking at least a half day to explore Cataloochee Valley.
This area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rich in history, wildlife and outdoor activities. Some have dubbed it the "Cades Cove of North Carolina" for it's historic buildings/settlements, wildlife and cove-like surroundings. But unlike the very popular Cades Cove area, Cataloochee Valley is no where near as crowded. The Valley has two very accessible campgrounds, one for tents and smaller groups and one for large groups. Be sure to review our "local directions" below to get detailed mileages to each one.
We recommend taking advantage of one or more of the hiking & horseback riding trails that criss-cross the valley and ridge lines, as well as the multiple fishing opportunities this area has to offer.
Hike the "Boogerman Trail" out to Robert "Boogerman" Palmer's old homestead. You'll pass the remains of where he lived along this loop hike. You can pick this trailhead up on the left and just before you pass the Ranger Station (at the gate to the valley). It will be 0.4 mile on the left and after you cross the bridge mentioned in the local directions.
Go Horseback RIding along the "Palmer Creek Trail." This trail is popular among horseback riders as it follows Palmer Creek for nearly half it's distance before climbing up a steep ridge line towards Balsam Mountain Road. Cataloochee Horse Camp is 0.2 mile from the trailhead of "Pretty Hollow Gap Trail" (also the trailhead for Palmer Creek Trail & next to historic "Beech Grove School"). Palmer Creek Trail gains approx. 1800 feet of elevation in almost 5 miles, from Cataloochee Valley floor to Balsam Mountain Road. This trailhead can be picked up on the right, 0.7 mile after passing the Ranger Station at the entrance.
Fishing. If you have the time to spend wading some classic Smoky Mountains streams, we recommend spending some in Cataloochee Valley. Here, Rough Fork, Palmer Creek and Caldwell Fork make up the headwaters of Cataloochee Creek. Having said that, you really can't go wrong with any of the streams located here. You'll have a chance to catch some nice Brook, Brown & Rainbow Trout, all of which are "wild" trout. The Brook is technically a "Native" fish to our region and the only trout with such designation.
Here's a challenge... Go for the "Fishing Cycle" and catch one of each! The headwaters of Rough Fork, Palmer Creek and Caldwell Fork are sure to produce some nice "Brookies," while down in the Valley you'll catch Rainbow and Brown. The fish aren't huge by any means, averaging around 5-10 inches. What the fish lack in size, they make up for in beauty. Be sure you have a valid N.C. or Tennessee fishing license before you come.
Cataloochee Valley is one of our most favorite places to escape to anytime of year. If you're coming strictly for the elk, the best time to see them is in the Autumn. This is when the bull elk perform their famous "bugle" to attract females for mating and to challenge other bulls for supremacy. You may even be lucky enough to witness two bull elk sparing with each other, a tremendous sight for sure.
From South of Interstate-40 (Florida, Atlanta, Franklin, Sylva):
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Pick up U.S. Hwy-441/23 and then eventually turning into U.S.-74/23 (Great Smoky Mountain Expressway) in Dillsboro and head East towards Waynesville/Asheville. Take Exit 102 B off of U.S. Hwy-74/23, this will be the second exit, just over the overpass. See a small skiing sign for Cataloochee Ski Resort at the exit, as well as signs for Maggie Valley. You are now on U.S. Hwy-276. Take it for 1.6 miles out to an intersection with U.S. Hwy-19. Go left here for 2.4 miles to where U.S. Hwy-276 splits off of U.S. Hwy-19 on your right (Dollar General store) and also called "Jonathan Creek Road", take this right. Continue on Jonathan Creek Road/U.S. Hwy-276 for 5.7 miles to "Cove Creek Road" on your left. See a small brown GSMNP sign pointing to take the left. You will also notice Intersate-40 signs as you are very close to it. If you find yourself at I-40, you have gone too far.
Cove Creek Road will take you into Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Cataloochee entrance. At 1.4 miles from the start of Cove Creek Rd. you will see a sign reading, "Cataloochee Valley 10 miles ahead." This road is narrow and twisting, so take your time. At 4.7 miles from the start of Cove Creek Road, it turns to gravel and starts climbing. This section can be a bit bumpy so be prepared to take your time. The drop off on the right is steep and you'll notice from the view, you are climbing in elevation.
At 5.9 miles you are at the entrance to the Park (see Cataloochee GSMNP sign here). From here, it's all downhill for 1.7 miles to where the road meets pavement again at a fork in the road. Here, go left towards Cataloochee. See sign for Cosby, TN (28 miles) and the "Big Creek" area of GSMNP (16 miles). After taking the left onto the pavement (thank goodness!) head down for 2.9 miles (passing or stopping at the overlook of the park and valley below on your right) to where you will cross Cataloochee Creek via bridge. To the right is the access road for the Group Campground (1 mile) & info exhibit (0.5 mile). For the historic Cataloochee Valley, continue straight. At 0.1 mile from crossing the bridge and remaining straight is the camping permit kiosk located on your left. Travel another 0.2 mile for the actual campground on your left and year-round bathroom facilities. Another 0.1 mile from the campground you'll see a footbridge over the creek and trailhead sign for "Boogerman Trail," via the Caldwell Fork Trail. Another 0.2 mile will officially introduce you to Cataloochee Valley. Enjoy!
From East/West - Interstate-40 (Asheville, Knoxville):
From I-40 take Exit 20 (Jonathan Creek Road) for 0.3 mile to Cove Creek Road on your right. Follow directions above from here.