The Elk at Cataloochee or|
The Hike That Almost Wasn't
Elaine and I were the only two Hilltop Hikers that went on this hike, and we almost didn't go because of the weather forecast... but we decided to throw caution to the wind (and rain) and hit the trail.
The elk at Cataloochee (on the North Carolina side of the park) bugle through the middle of October. If we didn't go this weekend, we would have to wait until next year to hear them. Additionally, they only bugle early in the morning and late in the afternoon. So we needed to get on the road EARLY for the 3 hour drive. I left Hooterville at 5 A.M. and picked up Elaine at the Cleveland Wal-Mart... I was supposed to pick her up at the Exit 25 commuter parking lot, but she forgot her hiking boots and had to go back home. (Note: 5 A.M. wasn't early enough!) We stopped at the Hardee's at Exit 417 for breakfast... and witnessed a gorgeous rainbow before we got back on the road.
Johnny Grant told me that after I got off the interstate, I would have '10 miles of bad road' and not to wash the truck before I left. He was absolutely right! I am sure I don't want to do that trip more than once a year! Picture this... one lane gravel road, through the mountains, with trucks pulling 5th wheel campers or huge horse trailers coming the other way.
After a quick stop at the campground restrooms and a brief chat with the Park Ranger, we drove up Cataloochee Valley to sightsee and scout a location to view the elk in the afternoon.
We started on Caldwell Fork Trail just a little before 10 o'clock by crossing the foot bridge over Cataloochee Creek. This bridge, at more than 25 feet, is reputedly the park's longest log bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge, we saw the sign that read:
After 0.8 mile, we veered left onto Boogerman Trail, an interesting, and a bit challenging, 3.8 mile trail through old growth forests and along stone walls. This trail re-joins Caldwell Fork Trail, which we followed back to the trailhead. In two miles, we crossed streams on foot bridges twelve times! Near the end of this trail, we met and visited with John and Pat Lafevre from Gatlinburg.
We got back to the truck in plenty of time to return to the area where the elk can be observed. If at all possible, you have to go up there to see and hear them!
On the drive back, we got off I-40 at Exit 451 to locate the Appalachian Trail.