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Two smoky mountain elk in a field

Two Smoky Mountain Elk Return to Tennessee Side of the Smokies

Two elk have made their way back to the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains! Drivers along Newfound Gap Road hit a traffic jam recently — the cause? Two young elk! The elk made their way from North Carolina all the way to Tennessee near the Chimney Tops Trail. Instead of turning around to head back to North Carolina, they continued to travel further into Tennessee! One was last spotted near the Gatlinburg entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the other was seen near Meigs Falls. Read on to learn more about the Smoky Mountain elk returning to Tennessee:

Smoky Mountain Elk Spotted in Tennessee

two young smoky mountain elk grazingThe two juvenile elk who have made their way into Tennessee repeated a trip that 3 young elk made in 2018. The elk that made the trip this year are assumed to be 2 of the same who made the previous trip! The route the elk took both times had them cross Clingmans Dome, which is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2018, they turned around near the Chimney Tops Picnic area, but this year they’ve expanded upon their last route and continued further into Tennessee.

The 2018 trip was the first time elk had roamed in the Tennessee side of the Smokies in a couple of centuries, and now that the elk have chosen a path, we can assume more are likely to travel here in years to come. However, no one knows how long the Smoky Mountain elk are here to stay! Biologists suspect that they’ll go back across the mountain to North Carolina soon since there are no female elk on the Tennessee side.

Watch the video from WBIR below to learn more about the elk in Tennessee.

What to Do if You See Elk in the Smoky Mountains

An elk prancing through the grassIf you spot any Smoky Mountain elk while you’re in the area, it’s important to take precautions to keep both you and the elk safe. Like other wildlife, you’ll want to stay a safe distance away. You also want to make sure not to feed them and keep any food you have secured at all times. It’s important to be cautious when driving as well. These particular Smoky Mountain elk tend to roam right along the side of the road, and there isn’t a lot of room for them. Don’t get caught up trying to take pictures of the elk instead of worrying about safety! You can still snap the perfect picture from a safe distance away. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has put up signs warning visitors to stay at least 50 yards away (about 15 car lengths) at all times.

Tips for Elk Viewing

While no one knows how long these 2 juvenile elk will be in the Smoky Mountains, you might have a chance to spot them while you’re in town! The best times to view elk are usually in the early morning or late evening. They also tend to be more active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that these elk will still be in the area on your vacation. If you want a higher chance of spotting elk, you can always make the trip to Cataloochee Valley in the North Carolina side of the mountains! Cataloochee Valley is about a 2-hour drive from Gatlinburg, so it makes for the perfect day trip during your Smoky Mountain vacation.

History of Elk in the Smoky Mountains

An elk grazing in the grass.Elk were once a prominent species in the southern Appalachian mountains and eastern United States. They were eventually eliminated from the area because of overhunting and loss of habitat. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed sometime in the mid-1800s. In 2001, the National Park Service decided to reintroduce elk to the Great Smoky Mountains. Fifty-two elk were originally released, and the herd has grown to about 200. Even though there are none permanently in the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains, it’s not out of the question for more to return in the future now that there are a few who know the path!

If you’re interested in seeing more wildlife while you’re in the Smoky Mountains, we can help! Read our guide on where and when to spot Smoky Mountain wildlife.