Details Inside: How to Safely View Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Elk laying down

Wildlife. It’s probably one of the main reasons you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you’re visiting to see large animals like black bears or deer or you’re looking to catch a glimpse at squirrels and raccoons, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with wildlife of all types. But according to the National Park officials, it’s the largest animal in the national park, the elk, that are one of the most dangerous this time of year.

From September 1 through the end of October, elk are extremely dangerous wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. During this time, they are going through their annual rutting (mating) season. The elk are on high alert and can be extremely aggressive this time of year. Park rangers are stressing the importance of using caution around them.

During this time, the male elk will make a loud bugle sound to attract females. Many times, these animals have associated humans with food, so they will approach humans in search of scraps of snacks. So, during the ‘rut’ period, it’s best for visitors to really respect the elk.

(Related News: 2014 Sets New Record for Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

To keep elk and visitors as safe as possible, some of the large fields where elk roam are closed to visitors. These fields include Cataloochee and Oconaluftee areas on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

How to Safely View Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkMale and female elk in the national park

Elk are very interesting creatures. They are the largest animal in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which means they can be some of the most dangerous. We want you to be able to see the elk without having to worry about your safety, so here are a few tips:

  • When you spot elks in the fields, don’t approach them. Just view them through your camera lens or binoculars from the roadside or hiking trail.
  • Females with their offspring can be extremely dangerous. Although the baby elk can appear cute and cuddly, it’s best to stay away. Females will view you as an intruder to their personal space and will do whatever necessary to care for her baby. According to the National Park Service, elk typically only give birth to 1 calf each year. Weighing in at about 35 pounds, baby elk are able to stand just a couple of minutes after birth. They will nurse anywhere from 1 to 7 months. It’s during these months that female elk will be extremely cautious of her surroundings.
  • The National Park Service recommends staying at least 150 feet away from elk (the legal distance). If you get within 150 feet of the elk, it can result in fines up to $5,000 and visitors will also be subject to arrest.
  • Large elk in the Great Smoky MountainsElk can be found crossing the roads in the national park quite often. When you notice an elk crossing, stay in your vehicle. Don’t block traffic, and give them room to move. Don’t flash bright lights at the elk, or it can result in aggression and damage to your vehicle.
  • Don’t feed any wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When you feed them, they will continue to return to the feeding area, which takes them out of their natural habitat–ultimately harming them. Any food you may have is not their natural diet, so they can also become very ill and start searching out garbage from other areas as well. This isn’t safe for the elk or visitors in the national park.

If you want to learn more about the best times to view wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, take a look at our blog “Where and When to Spot Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife.”

Local news station, WVLT, did a story on how to safely view elk in the national park. Watch the video below to see what they had to say:

**Do you know any other safety tips for viewing wildlife in the national park? Tell us what they are in the comments section below this article!

How Much Do You Know About Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

What do you call the male and female elk in the park?

  • Male elk: bull
  • Female elk: cow
  • Baby elk: calf
  • Yearling bull elk: spike

How big do the elk get?Elk in the national park

  • Males: Average 600-700 pounds
  • Females: Average 500 pounds
  • They average anywhere from 7 to 10 feet in length to approximately 5 feet tall.

How long do they live?

  • Elk live for approximately 15 years.

What do elk eat?

  • Elk are vegetarians and live off the land. They prefer grasses, nuts, tree bark and leaves.

Do you have any safety tips for viewing elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Don’t forget to share them with us in the comments below!

Author will respond to readers’ comments.


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