When is the best time to visit Cherokee? Probably, my favorite time is fall and even winter—when the crowds are not so great. And the best time of the day? Later in the afternoon because that is when the Elk are around the visitor’s center at Oconaluftee.

Elk are wild animals, so there’s no guarantee you’ll see them. But there are some spots that they are known to frequent which means there are places you can go that will give you a better chance of seeing them, especially if you go at a time when they are normally out—early in the morning and late afternoon.

Cataloochee Valley is said to be the best place to go see elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you are short on time, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center may be just as good and very predictable.  That’s where these photos were taken.

These “girls” are content to slowly make their way across the fields at Occonaluftee.

Or you may do what I did and just stop along the roadway and snap photos of the ones walking beside the car.

At one point in history elk were plentiful throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, but over hunting and loss of habitat led to the removal of the elk.  By the late 1700s. But after being gone for over two hundred years the park service came up with an idea.

In 2001 the national park conducted an experiment: return a single herd of elk to the park to see if they could sustain themselves. It worked. Sixteen years later there are over 150 elk in the park scattered around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Cataloochee Valley. The initial herd of 25 elk, and the next herd of 27, were imported from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.