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Ingles Open Road with Oconaluftee Elk

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I’m Chris Bainbridge inviting you to take a ride with me. This is an amazing place to find adventure in all shapes and sizes. Ingles has sent me on a mission to bring you the very best of what our beautiful home has to offer – food, fun, nature, music, and more. All affordable, and all out of the ordinary. This is The Ingles Open Road.

Today we’re taking you on an expedition to witness one of the wild, beautiful, and amazing annual occurrences that takes place each fall here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Something I’ve been wanting to witness for years. Today we’re in Cherokee, and this is the Elk Rut.

The Elk Rut is the term for the fall breeding season. A time when male bull elk blow their bugling trumpets to challenge other males and attract females. Their haunting calls echo through the Cherokee wilderness, and leave you with a feeling of childlike wonder. But wait a second. How is there a wild elk herd here in the mountains of North Carolina? I’m glad you asked.

Elk are a native species to these mountains. The largest game animal on the east coast, they were hunted to extinction in this region in the mid 1800’s. More than a hundred years would pass until in 2001 the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Park Service, and other partners joined together to restore wild elk to the Smokies in the Cataloochee Valley.

Their population has grown ever since, expanding from Cataloochee, into Cherokee – here near the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. The best time to view them is early in the morning and late in the evening. But keep your distance. 50 yards is the law. A bull elk can get up to 700 pounds. And those spectacular antlers – while beautiful – are also a warning to keep your distance.

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These really are impressive and gorgeous animals – almost majestic, really. The fact that they are surviving and thriving once again in these mountains is just a triumph of conservation and bringing history back to life.

And speaking of which, there is more to this area than just the elk themselves. Right here at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the Mountain Farm Museum – a collection of historic structures carefully preserved and relocated here for our education and enjoyment.

So come to Cherokee, or to Cataloochee, and witness something amazing. Pack an Ingles picnic, and prepare for a day of wild mountain splendor. Plan your visit at VisitCherokeeNC.com. Your weekend is waiting on the Ingles Open Road.

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