I think of it as the almost forgotten side of the Smokies. Forgotten may not be entirely true but for sure it is less traveled and less well known than many other areas of the Great Smoky Mt National Park (which means less crowded too!) It is a bit harder to get to but well worth the effort. Located approximately 65 miles from Gatlinburg and 39 miles from Pigeon Forge, the easiest and most scenic route is I-40 to Exit 20 (US 276). then look for Cove Creek Rd about .2 of a mile on the right. The road is paved for 4 miles, gravel for 3 then back to pavement. The gravel section is narrow with some sharp curves and can be rough at times.
While Cataloochee seems to be a lost or forgotten area now, not long ago that wasn’t so. It was once the largest settlement in the Smokies with more than 1200 people. It was an early thoroughfare for travelers through the mountains, used by animals, Indians and European settlers long before automobiles and interstate highways.
People like Mark Hannah, one of the first rangers in the park were instrumental in the preservation of the history and heritage of the people of the Great Smokies. Mr Hannah himself was a descendant of early settlers who came to the valley to farm. He collected first hand accounts of the mountain people, which are preserved in the park’s archives. Visit the Palmer House (which housed one of the post offices in the area), the areas visitor center and hear some of the recorded stories of those early settlers.
Besides Palmer House there are other historic buildings you will want to visit like Palmer Chapel, Beech Grove School, the Woody House, and the Caldwell House. To see a video of the area see an interview with Hattie Caldwell whose great grandfather was first into the area in 1834 click on this youtube link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lbGd8JYl84
Another unique feature of this area are the elk, spectacular creatures that roam free here after being reintroduced to the park in 2001/2002. Other wildlife commonly seen in the area are black bears, wild turkey, deer and red wolves. Best viewing times are early morning and early evening. Be sure to view all wildlife from a distance with binoculars or zoom lenses.
Out of 200 buildings near the turn of the 20th century only a handful remain to give us a glimpse of life as the settlers knew it. Forest has reclaimed much of the farmland and orchards, the deer and elk graze next to the ruins of a stone chimney in the lost cove of Cataloochee and all is well.