Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors to exercise caution as they view and photograph elk so that both the animals and themselves are protected. Elk are currently entering the fall breeding season, known as the rut. During this time period, from September 1 through October 31, fields in Cataloochee and Oconaluftee are closed to all use. Even if the elk are not present, people are not allowed to walk into the fields.
During the rut, male elk make bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. Dominant bulls use the fields to gather and breed with harems of up to 20 cows. Bull elk actively defend their territory by charging and sparring with competitors using their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males. Encroaching too close may lead a bull to perceive you or your vehicle as a threat causing them to charge.
Park Rangers encourage visitors to use binoculars, spotting scopes, or cameras with telephoto lenses to best enjoy wildlife. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park. If approached by an elk, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. If elk are near the roadways, remain in or next to your vehicle at a safe distance from the animal.
Park volunteers, through the Elk Bugle Corp, Oconaluftee Rover, and Roadside Assistance volunteer programs, provide on-site information and assist in traffic management at both Cataloochee and Oconaluftee during the rut season. Funds to support these programs are provided by Friends of the Smokies.
For more information on how to safely view elk, please click here.
Hiking in the Smokies