Great Smoky Mountains National Park | CATALOOCHEE REGION

Elk on the field of the Cataloochee Region

Elk on the field of the Cataloochee Region

The Cataloochee Region was once the most populated area of what became Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The region consisted of two communities, Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee, with the two separated by Nolan Mountain. Though the Cherokee Indians had been around for hundreds of years, it was not until the early 1800s that white settlers moved into the area. The land was originally purchased by a post-American Revolution land speculator named Colonel Robert Love, and he opened it up to settlement. The first family, the Caldwells, arrived in 1814. The original community was made up of just a handful of families—the Caldwells, Hannahs, Bennetts, Nolands, Palmers, Franklins, Messers, and Woodys—and all settled in the Big Cataloochee area. Little Cataloochee was settled later by the grown children of the original settlers, for land at Big Cataloochee was all spoken for and they needed a place where they could start their own families and farms.

Caldwell Family Photo

Caldwell Family Photo

Unlike all other National Parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was not created out of federal land or through land donations by private individuals, but by forcibly purchasing the land within the proposed park boundaries. Some residents were glad to take the money and leave the hard mountain life, while others fought to remain. Though the park was not opened until 1940, land purchases began as early as 1925. Since the federal government could not buy land for National Park use, the Tennessee and North Carolina state governments had to do the purchasing, then donate the land to the National Park Service. Cataloochee, like many other communities, came to an end when the park opened.

Today the Cataloochee Region is known for its abundance of wildlife and historical sites. Here you will find some of the few open fields in the park, and such fields are highly prized by elk. Visitors during the spring, summer, and fall have a very good chance of spotting these animals in the early morning or evening. The road to the fields is the same that passes many old mountain houses, barns, and churches. Other structures are located along the hiking trails in the area.

However, the greatest aspect of a visit to the Cataloochee area—and the entire east side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park including the Cosby and Big Creek regions, for that matter—is that you can get away from the hordes of tourists that pack the Cades Cove, Elkmont, and other areas near Gatlinburg, and the Smokemont region near Cherokee, North Carolina. You don’t have to worry about being on your way to your destination by 8 AM to avoid the traffic. Life is much calmer on the east side of the park. This is really what the Smoky Mountains are all about.


Cataloochee Campground
27-site campground that accommodates both tents and RVs. A separate group campground is located farther down the road. Open seasonally. Reservations are required.

Cataloochee Horse Campground
For those with their own horses, Cataloochee has a 7-site horse camp located just down the road from the main campground. Open seasonally. Reservations are required.


There are dozens of hiking trails in the Cataloochee Region and over 800 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is not possible for me to hike all of them, but I did hike a few in each region. Here is a suggestion for a nice day hike at Cataloochee.

Boogerman-Caldwell Fork Loop Trail


When the park was first created, the goal for the Cataloochee Region was to return it to a natural state by removing all of the buildings. Most were either destroyed or left to rot. In 1938 a survey was done of the surviving buildings, and it was decided to restore those in the best condition so the public could enjoy them. Eight of these buildings remain and are open to visitors. Those in the Big Cataloochee area are accessible by vehicle, while those in the Little Cataloochee area require a long hike to reach.

Cataloochee Historical Area
Listing and description of the historical structures at Cataloochee.

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Last updated on February 12, 2021
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