Elk in the Smoky Mountains; what to do if you see them

NORTH CAROLINA (WATE) — This is the time of year when many come to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fall in the Smokies means beautiful colors on trees and animals.

On the Tennessee mountain side you can see bears, but on the North Carolina side you can see elk. Park rangers are reminding people to be careful if they see them while you’re on the go.

Patrick Stewart is from Huntsville, Alabama, and comes to the Smoky Mountains every year to take pictures of the elk.

“[It’s] purely a hobby,” he said. “We have the big equipment, but it’s purely a hobby. We do a little side work, call it freelance if you want to call it that, but it’s not my job at all.

He’s been riding the Smoky Mountains for over two decades to get picture-perfect footage of elk herds.

“It’s a pretty good feeling when they come in at a distance from where you think they are, but when you see them and when you have good light and when you have the streams and the water, any type of color, most of which is gone, but it’s pretty mind blowing to see these guys in the wild,” Stewart added.

Autumn is the breeding season for these animals. Therefore, they are more active and visible in the Smokies.

“At this time of year, during the fall rut, you’ll see a lot of different behaviors in elk that you might not see at other times of the year. Male elk are just full of testosterone. Their testosterone levels spike this time of year and they really don’t know how to back down from a challenge. So you see a lot more defensive behavior at this time of year than you wouldn’t see at other times of year,” said Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildlife biologist Joe Yarkovich.

This means that visitors should be extremely careful.

“If you come to the park and see elk, we ask that you follow some basic safety tips,” Yarkovich said. “We ask that you park your vehicle on the side of the road and stay in or near your vehicle when viewing animals.”

It is illegal to approach or feed animals in the national park.

Your best bet for good eyesight is to take binoculars or a camera, like Stewart, with you to the park. It’s a sight to behold for Stewart and many others in the Smokies.

“They don’t do that for us, that’s what they do. And being able to see that visually is what got me into this,” Steward said.

According to park rangers, elk were native and abundant throughout North Carolina and Tennessee until the late 1700s or early 1800s.

They were then removed from the area completely and were not reintroduced to the park until 2001. The best time to see elk is in the early morning or late afternoon.


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