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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Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushroom

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushroom. Photo credit – Jennifer M

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushrooms are always in season! Trametes versicolor (common name Turkey Tail mushroom) is a decomposing polypore mushroom found on logs, stumps and dying trees all across North America. You can find them year-round in an array of beautiful colors, concentrically lining the fan shaped or circular caps (zonate) and growing in rosette patterns or overlapping clusters on dead or dying hardwoods and sometimes conifers. The underlying pore surface has 3-8 tiny pores per mm that starts out white but gradually ages to buff or darker, with a white spore print. This mushroom is thin and flexible when young turning more rigid as it weathers and ages. The cap has zones of velvety or finely hairy rings, again weathering off sometimes with age. Not only are Turkey Tail Mushrooms beautifully photogenic, they are also being investigated medicinally worldwide. With their high levels of antioxidants and polysaccharides they are purported to help stabilize immunity levels and store energy to aid in the fight against colds, flu’s and the recovery process after cancer treatments. Turkey Tails simmered together with Chaga, cinnamon bark and pure maple syrup make a delicious tea. Make sure to check below the cap to correctly identify Trametes versicolor, for there are many Turkey Tail lookalikes with larger pore surfaces, toothed pores, even gills or just smooth.

Be advised: If you have never collected wild mushrooms always go with an expert who can identify them! We strongly recommend  basic mushroom identification skills acquired with picture taking, along with heavy research before attempting to ingest any wild mushroom. Although there are no known toxic polypores, there are still several highly toxic gilled mushrooms that can cause gastrointestinal disturbances or even death.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park prohibits the removal of mushrooms, plants, animals and historical artifacts. Please respect park regulations so the next visitor can enjoy the parks beauty too. Remember to leave only footsteps and take only photographs! The hardwood coves of Greenbrier, Cosby, Deep Creek, Cades Cove and Cataloochee are great places to view Turkey Tails so make sure and have plenty of memory available on your camera and enjoy.

HeySmokies mycology enthusiast loves Turkey Tail hunting!

HeySmokies mycology enthusiast, Jennifer M, loves wild mushroom hunting!

HeySmokies would like to welcome our new mycology enthusiast Jennifer M. Jennifer lives in Southwest Ohio and works as a conservation and parks technician for a large Southern Ohio park system. She has developed a keen interest in mycology that spans over thirty years that has grown to include fungi photography, cuisine and arts/crafts. Her favorite travel destination site is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park area. “I’ve been visiting since I was a child and the excitement of exploring this beautiful environment and all it has to offer has never faded!”

Top and underside of Turkey Tail mushroom. Photo credit - Jennifer M

Top and underside of Turkey Tail mushroom. Photo credit – Jennifer M

Smoky Mountain Camp Stew Recipe

Smoky Mountain Southern Camp Stew is a delicious dish any time of year! photo credit : Susan Vickery

Smoky Mountain Camp Stew Recipe. Camp stew is a Southern favorite any time of year but especially in the cold winter months. This dish is easy to make, delicious and a real crowd pleaser during the big game on Super Sunday.

All you need are a few simple ingredients and about thirty minutes of prep time. This dish goes great with a pan of buttermilk cornbread. We love to “sop up” the stew liquid with a big piece of cornbread while others like to crumble their pone into the stew. We call them crumblers. Either way it is a tasty addition to the stew.

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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!