Sure you’ve heard of black bears, turkeys, deer and bobcats…but did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains are also home to elk? Reintroduced to the park in 2001, the elk population in the National Park is now booming. There are lots of things to know about elk in the Smoky Mountains – read on for more information!
One of the most important things to know is that it is illegal to willfully approach an elk. You must stay 50 yards away from these impressive animals at all times- stick to the roads and do not enter the fields to get a better picture or view of the animals. If you don’t disturb them, they won’t disturb you!
Elk in the Smoky Mountains were once abundant, but their numbers were hunted to near extinction near the 1900’s. In 2001, 25 elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and an additional 27 more in 2002. Today, there have been 14 calves born in the Park!
If you think of elk the same way you think of deer – think again! Elk are larger than even the biggest black bears in the Park, with the males weighing in at 700 bounds and standing five feet tall at the shoulder. Male elk produce the impressive antlers, which can grow up to five feet in length!
Are you interested in viewing the elk? The Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the National Park is a great place to do so, and with fall just around the corner elk will be more active than ever. Fall is the elk’s breeding season, so keep an ear out for their mating calls called “bugles.” You may even witness two male elk battle over a female – quite a sight to see on a Tennessee vacation!
The best time of day to view elk is in the early morning and late evening time. You may also see elk on overcast summer days or even before or after a storm. Bring a pair of binoculars and keep a close watch for your chance to catch a glimpse of an elk.
Late spring and early summer are when the females give birth to calves that weigh about 35 pounds. The calves can walk within only a few minutes of birth, which is ideal for avoiding predators. Females can be very defensive of their young and have been known to charge onlookers. If you see a baby elk that looks abandoned – don’t approach it! The mother is likely nearby and keeping a close eye on her baby.
Just like all wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, elk are wild and should never be approached or touched. Respect the wildlife and keep your distance to avoid fees, tickets or even an arrest. You and your family will be lucky to have seen an elk on your vacation to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee!