Smoky Mountain Elk & Buffalo
The ecosystem is just one of many reasons why people from all over the world come to visit the Smoky Mountains. Whether in the National Park or in some adjacent hills (or on rare occasions even down in town!), there are loads and loads of critters you can expect a good chance you might get to see. We have our hometown mascot, the Black Bear, as you likely know, and we have deer, foxes, owls, salamanders, falcons, raccoons, turkeys, woodchucks and, our subject for this article, Elk and Buffalo. The last two are lesser known around these parts, and yet we get many visitors who ask us where they can see them at.
In this article, we’ll help you to answer that! Bring your memory cards, folks, you’ll get your pictures of Elk and Buffalo that will make friends and family green with envy!
Note: It is illegal within the National Park to willfully approach an elk with 50 yards of where it is or to be any distance that intentionally disturbs or displaces elk. Do not enter any field to view elk. The National Park Service requires that you stay by the roadside and use magnifying tools to view them.
By now, most of us know how to spot an elk as opposed to a deer. If it’s skinny and cuddly-looking, it’s (likely) a deer. If it’s pretty big, hairy and looks like it’s been eating its spinach, it’s an elk! They are among the biggest animals we have in the Smokies; the males can reach 800lbs in weight, the females 600lbs, they can stand as tall as a truck, and their antlers could rival the top of your car for how much stuff they could probably carry. An elk is a beast, no doubt about it, and in fact, they are even bigger than the Smoky Mountain black bear!
That in combination with the fact that elk have not been native to this area for over 150 years makes elk a viewing prize. Folks coming to the Tennessee Smokies will need to make a day trip out of it as most of the elk within park viewing are in Cataloochee near Maggie Valley in North Carolina, although there are some in the area of the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center just before Cherokee in North Carolina. The best times to see Elk are early morning and late evening, with some preference for cloudy Summer days and before or after storms, according to the National Park Service.
To find Cataloochee on Google Maps, CLICK HERE
Generally, when one thinks of buffalo, images that cross the mind are the plains and other areas in the western part of the United States; the highlands of the East Tennessee Smokies aren’t typically in the Top 10, but we do, in fact, have a place within easy distance to get to that you can see buffalo!
And it is only one place in or around the Smokies where you can see them, but it’s in Gatlinburg near the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community – the Brown Buffalo Farm owned by former Gatlinburg Pittman High School football coach Benny Hammonds. Roaming the grounds, as buffalo do according to the song, are a small number of American Bison that are nonetheless easy to see and photograph. American Bison is difficult to mention in the text without highlighting how close to extinction they were and the Brown Buffalo Farm in Gatlinburg is just one place among many in the US where their preservation is active. The American Bison is a big animal where they can range from 6 to 11 feet long (depending on the subspecies), 3 to 6 feet tall and between 700 to more than 2,000 pounds in weight, and they can attack people if provoked – therefore it is mutually beneficial that visitors are only able to view the Brown Farm buffalo from a safe roadside distance.
Thankfully, roadside visitation is encouraged all the same at Brown Farm and doing so is 100% free. Definitely worth a visit as it’s a relatively short jaunt from most areas in the Sevier County area.
To find The Brown Farm on Google Maps, CLICK HERE