The Cataloochee Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cataloochee is a tucked-away destination and its special beauty offers an appeal to all interests and ages. Bring blankets or folding chairs and a picnic, and set up camp for a long afternoon along the large meadow of Cataloochee Valley to watch for the appearance of the elk herd.

Elk in Cataloochee

Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Lace up those hiking boots and venture down some of the interesting trails located within the park boundaries.  Campers will be awed after sundown by the multitude of stars that are visible in the low light of this remote valley. Anglers are sure to enjoy searching out the perfect spot along a rushing creek to land an elusive trout. The equestrian set will appreciate the horse camp and the many trails available.

  • Fishing: Cataloochee Creek and all its tributaries feature an abundant wild trout population. A Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required within park boundaries and may be acquired at nearby communities or online from North Carolina at ncwildlife.org or in Tennessee at tn.wildlifelicense.com.
  • Camping: a 27-site primitive campground is located in the valley and is open mid-March through October for tents or RVs up to 31 feet. Group camping is available through advanced reservations. Back country camping requires  a permit. For more info, go to recreation.gov.
  • Horse Camp: reservations are required and maybe obtained by calling 877-444-677 or logging onto recreation.gov.
  • Hiking: One of the more popular trails in Cataloochee is the seven-mile loop Boogerman Trail that winds through towering old-growth forests. The Little Cataloochee Trail meanders down an old road that leads past several historical structures.

Getting There
The easiest way to reach Cataloochee is from Interstate 40. Take the North Carolina exit #20 (Maggie Valley) and turn right into Cove Creek Road.

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Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019

Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019. It’s never to early to start making plans to see the Synchronous Fireflies (and the Blue Ghost Fireflies) that will light up the night sky in late May and early June 2019 in the Great Smoky Mountains. Firefly viewing in the Smokies has become such a popular event that there are now several venues available to enjoy the spectacular shows.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous FirefliesThe Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Phausis reticulata) are two species that are found only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains which include the Great Smokies. And during the short mating season in late May and early June, both firefly species put on quite a show to behold! The male Synchronous Fireflies flash their little green-yellow bioluminescent lanterns in unison for about 6-8 blinks and then they go dark for a few seconds creating a sublime wave of light throughout the forest. The male Blue Ghost Fireflies don’t flash their blue-white lanterns, instead they glow continuously just a few inches above the ground. The ethereal experience of either nighttime show should be on everyone’s bucket list!  National Park scientists mostly use air and soil temperatures to predict the timing of each year’s mating season.

Synchronous Fireflies with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
One of the most popular places to view the Synchronous Fireflies is in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This event has become so popular that a free lottery system was instituted this year for the $1.50 parking passes for the eight-day shuttle period to Elkmont. During this time of peak viewing, Elkmont is closed at nighttime with the exception of shuttle users and campers in Elkmont Campground. Dates for the 2018 Lottery and Elkmont Shuttle will be announced sometime in April 2018. HeySmokies will keep you updated, so be sure to check back with us. We’ll provide you all the details of what you need to know to register for the lottery. For more information in the meantime, visit Recreation.gov.

Synchronous Fireflies with Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, TNBlue ghost fireflies
For a few nights during peak firefly viewing time, Discover Life in America hosts a fundraising event featuring nightly presentations and field walks at the Norton Creek Sanctuary near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tickets for the event are $100 each and the event is geared toward persons ages 10 and older. For reservations for this exclusive event, call Discover Life in America at 865-430-4757 or email todd@dlia.org.

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Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots

Smoky Mountain fishing is fun for the whole family.

Cast your line in the Smoky Mountains for the catch of a lifetime!

Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots. Smoky Mountain Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies have over two thousand miles of streams and rivers within the park boundary.  If you are ready for the challenge, fishing opportunities abound in the Smokies.

Anglers from around the globe visit the park to test their skills in our pristine waters. If you are a novice or a seasoned pro you will be hollerin’ “Fish On” before you know it.  Folks often ask HeySmokies, “What kind of fish do you have in the Smoky Mountains?” The five most common game fish in the Smokies are Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Rock Bass, and Smallmouth Bass. Each of these beauties are a thrill to catch. The HeySmokies fly rod squad agrees that the most beautiful fish we ever caught is the one on the end of our line right now!

The HeySmokies fly rod squad has trekked across the Smokies from end to end over the years and we know where the fish tend to be biting. For those who are unfamiliar with the park here are a few fishing destinations you will want to explore. If you are after Smallmouth bass and Rock bass a couple of good places to begin would be the Big Pigeon River on eastern edge of the park. The Pigeon is easily accessed in Hartford, TN via Interstate 40. The Waterville road I – 40 exit, five miles south of Hartford near Big Creek, is another spot with easy access. If you are after trout you can’t go wrong in Big Greenbrier five miles east of Gatlinburg. Porters Creek and the middle prong of the Little Pigeon river are popular spots in “Big G.” If you plan to visit the North Carolina side of Smokies make plans to cast a line in Cataloochee near Maggie Valley or Deep Creek near Bryson City. Both places offer solitude and a sense of immersion in the mountains.

Brook Trout is the only species of trout native to the Smoky Mountains. This fish is known as “spec” or “speckled trout” by Smoky Mountain natives and is one of the most elusive and difficult to catch. Many anglers are not aware that spec is not a true trout but a “char.” The historic range of char stretches from Canada to north Georgia. “Brookies” in the Smokies usually have a life span of less than three years and rarely grow larger than 8 – 9 inches.

Brown Trout are the largest game fish species in the national park. Primarily found in the

Trout fishing in the Smokies!

Deciding which stream to fish may be the most difficult thing about angling in the Smokies!

lower elevation streams, they thrive in slow moving water with good cover and lot’s of hiding spots. “Brownies” were brought to the the United States from Europe and compete with other species in the Smokies. They are long lived and it is not uncommon for them to survive up to twelve years. The majority caught in the Smokies are six to twelve inches in length and have been known to become thirty inches long weighing eleven pounds. Can you imagine the feeling of reeling in one of those bad boys?

Rainbow Trout are the most common game fish in the Smokies and are highly prized by anglers. Rainbows are found in almost every stream in the national park and are recognized by their familiar pink-toned stripe on their side. Like Brownies, Rainbows are not native to the Smokies, they were introduced from stock in the Northwestern United States. They were released into our mountain streams by logging companies in the early 1900’s. Most Rainbows reeled in by anglers are six to ten inches in length with an average age of three to five years. It is extremely rare to find rainbow trout over twelve inches in length.

Smallmouth bass and rock bass inhabit the lowest elevation streams and rivers in the Smokies on the borders of the park. They prefer cool deeper pools and shaded areas near the banks of the river. These species are native to the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi river. Smallmouth bass are the largest of the two and are usually six to fourteen inches in length. Their lifespan is five to seven years and a five pounder is considered a trophy fish. Rockbass are smaller in size ranging from four to eight inches in length but occasionally reach up to ten inches. Their typical life span is six to eight years.

Bonus angler tip: Did you know only one fishing license is required to fish Great Smoky Mountains National Park? With roughly half the park in North Carolina and the other in Tennessee a valid license from either state gives you total access to over 500,000 square miles of fishing heaven. As if you needed another reason to come fish with us!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Increases Frontcountry Camping Fees

Cosby in Great Smoky Mountains - HeySmokies

Sunset at the Cosby campground entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Increases Frontcountry Camping Fees.  The increase for frontcounty campgrounds and picnic pavilions became effective March 1, 2018. Over the past year, officials reviewed public comments, operating costs, and projected budget levels to determine the rate of the increase from a range of 10% to 25%.

Park officials report the rate increase is necessary to meet the rising operational costs, reduce a growing backlog of maintenance on park facilities, and begin much needed improvements. Park officials are also working to improve the efficiency of campground management by adding three campgrounds to the national reservation system through Recreation.gov.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash

Park visitors have long enjoyed camping and picnicking across the park in spectacular settings that offer space for relaxation and renewal,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Maintaining and servicing these facilities in the mountains presents a unique set of challenges and, with increasing costs, these fee increases are necessary to ensure the continual care and operation of these special places.

The park operates nine open campgrounds, seven group campgrounds, six picnic pavilions, and five horse campgrounds. The current fees have not been increased since 2006 or earlier at any facility aside from Cataloochee Campground which had an increase in camping fees in 2011 when it was added to the reservation system. The park is also adding Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Big Creek campgrounds to the National Recreation Reservation System to improve operational efficiency. Beginning in early March of 2018, all sites will require advanced reservation and payment prior to arrival in the park through Recreation.gov either online or by phone. By placing these three geographically remote campgrounds on the reservation system, the park can reduce campground operation costs by eliminating the need for staff time for the collection of fees. The reservation system also provides a more efficient process for visitors to secure an overnight stay without traveling to the remote locations to check for vacancies.

By law, the park retains 100 percent of the camping and pavilion fees. The fees are used primarily to operate these facilities. This includes maintaining buildings, grounds, and utilities, providing visitor services, and funding rehabilitation projects, such as road resurfacing and replacing picnic tables and grills. Some revenues are also used to maintain park infrastructure and other special projects beyond these sites. Over the years, the park has had to compensate for rising costs from inflation by reducing visitor services, delaying maintenance repairs and improvements, and, at many sites, shortening the length of the season when facilities are open, having a particularly adverse impact on visitors during the shoulder seasons.

The park completed a 2016 comparability study with campgrounds in the surrounding communities and the study revealed that, while camping fees in the park have remained mostly constant since 2006, campgrounds in the surrounding communities have continued to rise. Even with the fee increase, park campgrounds will remain among the least expensive in the area.

For more information about campground facilities in the park, please visit the park website at NPS.gov.

Smoky Mountain Ironweed

Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is one of the most striking and beautiful wildflowers in the HeySmokies.com region!

Smoky Mountain Ironweed is a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a hike takes you through a sunny meadow in the Smokies during the late summer or autumn, you are likely to see a tall graceful wildflower with a head of deep purple flowers and bright green spear-shaped leaves growing along the meadow’s wet margins, often accompanied by goldenrod. This will be ironweed. You might also see it growing along roadsides and in pastures in Cades Cove, largely unnoticed until it begins to bloom in late July, with flowers continuing into late October. Orange and brown skipper butterflies are also likely to be flitting about the plant’s flowers, feeding on its nectar, which they greatly favor. But as you approach ironweed and look more closely, you’ll find that its beauty disguises its truly tough nature.

First, ironweed is tall. The most common variety in the Smokies, giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), grows up to 9 feet in height, though 7 feet is more normal. Next, it has a coarse, stiff, rather thick stem, reddish in color, that easily supports the plant’s great height and gives it its name. At its base, the plant forms a clump of stems that hold tenaciously to the soil mostly by way of a long tap root, making it difficult for farmers to eradicate the plant from their pastures, where its toxicity poses a threat to livestock. (Native Americans, however, used the dried tap root in a bitter drink to combat fevers and purify the blood.) The plant propagates itself over an extensive area through the thousands of seeds it produces each autumn. A single plant can produce up to 19,000 seeds.

While farmers view ironweed as a pest, gardeners favor it as a background plant for butterfly and native plant gardens, especially when partnered with sunflowers, milkweed, or hollyhocks. It is relatively easy to grow in East Tennessee, requiring a sunny spot, some compost to amend the clay soil, regular watering until established, and mulch to prevent drying out. Gardeners may wish to consider New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) as their ornamental of choice instead of giant ironweed since it is a more prolific bloomer.

Ironweed is easy to find this time of year no matter what part of the Smokies you visit. Keep your eyes peeled for it’s showy blooms in Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cataloochee, Greenbrier, Cosby, Smokemont, and Tremont.

HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.

 

Sources: GardenKnowhow,

Ironweed, and Ohio State.