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Three elk roaming the grass in the mountains

Visitors: Reasons to Watch for Elk in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its beautiful natural scenery and abundance of wildlife. Elk are the largest of all the animals in the national park, and many people make their way to the national park to spot the elk. But through the end of October and beginning of November, the elk are extremely dangerous and national park officials are warning guests to keep their distance.

Every year, from September 1 through October 31, the elk enter their rutting (mating) season. The elk can become extremely aggressive during this period of time, so it’s best to keep extra distance between yourself and the elk.

The fields in Oconaluftee and Cataloochee will be closed during this time, so the elk can have their space without being bothered by visitors.

(Readers Also Liked: Best Places to See Bears and Other Smoky Mountain Wildlife)


We know you’ll want to see the elk during your stay, and if you do, there’s a few guidelines you should follow. Due to unpredictable behaviors, and in order to keep yourself (as well as the animals) protected during this time, read through these safety tips:

Keep Your Distance

Coming within 150 feet of the elk (at any time, not just during the rutting period) is illegal. Visitors who get close to the elk will be fined up to $5,000 and will be subject to arrest. The National Park Service takes the wildlife seriously, and anyone who causes disruption with wildlife within the national park will definitely encounter a fine.

Use Binoculars

When you come upon the elk, use binoculars or a camera lens to see them. There’s no need to get close to them, just zoom in on your camera or binoculars to get a closer look.

Don’t Feed The Elk in the Smoky MountainsTwo elk walking in tall grass

This doesn’t just apply to elk, it applies to all Smoky Mountain wildlife. The wildlife is an important part of the national park, and we want to make sure to keep the national park as beautiful as possible. When you feed the wildlife or leave scraps of food and leftovers at picnic areas, the wildlife (including elk) can smell it and will begin to hunt for it.

When the wildlife sees that food is being left behind, they will continue to trace their steps to that food source and will eventually start spending too much time near people. This is dangerous for the wildlife and the visitors, and the result of this is devastating for the animal. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” and that applies to all wildlife. When you feed the animals and they start spending time in public places, it won’t be long before the National Park Service is forced to put them down. That is, if the scraps of food and garbage don’t harm the animal first. So, respect the wildlife by taking care of all garbage and food in proper waste bins.

For more information about elk in the Smoky Mountains, you can visit the National Park Service website here:

Where to Stay to Visit the National Park and See the Wildlife

If you want to see the wildlife and elk in the Smoky Mountains, you can stay at one of Amazing Views’ Gatlinburg cabin rentals. Each of these Gatlinburg cabin rentals is located only a short couple of minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you’ll be able to hike, explore and experience the abundance of wildlife in the mountains.

If you’re worried about seeing wildlife walk up to your porch at a cabin, take a look at our blog: Will We See Black Bears at Cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge?

To start planning your stay, you can give us a call. Our vacation rental specialists will be delighted to help you plan your stay and answer any questions you may have about the booking process.