Cataloochee campground is located in the historic Cataloochee Valley--a relatively remote part of Smoky Mountain National Park. The secluded setting offers visitors the ability to enjoy a multitude of recreational activities like hiking and fishing, without the crowds, which are sometimes common in other parts of the park.
The Cataloochee Valley features an extensive trail system that is less heavily used compared to other areas of the park. The two main trails, Caldwell Fork and nearby Rough Fork Trail, run mostly parallel to one another in the central portion of the valley. Either of these trails extend alongside scenic creeks and streams and support both hikers and horeseback riders.
For hikers only, the 3.9-mile Boogerman Trail forms a nice loop off the Caldwell Fork Trail and is less than a mile walk from the campground.
Anglers will agree that some of the best Rainbow and Brook trout fishing in the area can be found in the Cataloochee Basin, one of the most remote sections of the park. Fly fishing is particularly good during spring months when aquatic insects hatch in large numbers.
The park also holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. Over 90 historic structures, including houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools and grist mills, have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park. A handful of which can be found in the Cataloochee Valley, including the nearby Palmer House, built in 1869, which contains a self-guided museum.
Cataloochee offers a traditional outdoor camping experience with the added convenience of flush toilets and drinking water. There are no hookups or showers at the campground.
Hiking trails and fishing streams are easily accessible from the site and the nearby Cataloochee Group Camp can accommodate larger parties of guests.
Additionally, the Cataloochee Horse Camp provides convenient camping for horseback riding enthusiasts.
Cataloochee Campground is surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges and pristine mountain streams, like nearby Cataloochee Creek. Elk are common in this part of the park, during the spring and fall.
At a 2,600 foot elevation, Cataloochee provides a moderate climate, characterized by mild winters and hot, humid summers. Whether blanketed in bright spring wildflowers or exploding with vivid fall colors, the scenery at Cataloochee never disappoints.
A number of the park's famous historical buildings, including the Steve Woody and Caldwell Houses, both built in the late 19th-century, are nearby the campground.
The Steve Woody House, built in 1880, is located along the Rough Fork trail, an easy 2-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot at the end of Ranger Station Road.
ADA Access: N
This is the second time I have camped at this place, and it was even better the second time around. I say this because I explored more of what this area has to offer. The main reason people come to this area is to see the elk. Thousands upon thousands of people come here for that reason. However, there are many trails in this area as well with a lot of old structures—barns, houses built during the 1800s, an old church, an old schoolhouse, etc. I specifically wanted to hike the Boogerman Trail, which I had heard about for years. The trailhead is about a hundred yards from the campground, but more about that later. This campground has a washhouse with toilet, sinks, and a dish wash station, but it does not have showers. The campsites are level and well-shaded. There are no water or sewer hookups, but the sites are relatively private. You can still see the other campers easily, but the sites are not on top of each other. Reservations are REQUIRED since the drive to the campground is a ten mile curvy road with about four miles of it being gravel.(By the way, it was revealed last week that the road to Cataloochee Valley, including the campground, would be closed for repairs until sometime in May.) The Boogerman Trail is often wet, especially after rain, and it is a moderate climb. However, you walk by at least one tree that is HUGE. You will pass by a stone wall and an old homestead. You will also have to cross Caldwell Fork(creek) several times before getting back to the trailhead. Rough Fork Trail, which is at the end of the dirt road through the valley, leads you to the Woody house. It is a pleasant one mile walk. Big Fork Ridge Trail is another trail, with the trailhead being just before you get to the end of the dirt road. It is a much longer and steeper trail. I love this campground, not just because it is a pleasant camping experience, but because there is so much to explore.
This was a nice campground. A creek ran along one side and a small stream on the other side. The camp sites were nice and consisted of a fire pit, pic-nic table, and raised bed for your tent. There was only one bathroom but the campground was small enough that it wasn’t too far of a walk. The bathrooms had a sink in the middle for washing dishes. The campground included a water pump as well. The campground was an extremely short walk to a trail head and less than a 2 minute drive from where you could see elk and Turkey from your car. The only negatives were you were next to a road, and while you couldn’t see the cars, you could hear them but there was very little traffic, and you were at least 20 minutes from any store in case you needed ice, or something of that nature.
- We stayed at site #26 in tents. It was small but all the trees were great since we had to put up tarps for the rain. We were able to set up 2 -4 person tents and 1 large 10 person tent as well as a screened canopy over the picnic table. Plus you can hear the river from our site so that was pretty pleasant =)
- I walked the campground and my personal favorite site was #7. The fire pit and picnic bench are in the front and the tent area is further back near the river. Very large space.
- The drive up goes from road, to dirt, to road. Yes it is very narrow (especially since I drive a Suburban), but just drive slow and be careful on turns and you'll be fine. Any turn I couldn't see around, I honked as a heads up to oncoming traffic (which is a total of like 6 cars).
- Make sure to get firewood/supplies prior to driving up the mountain. It's about a 30 minute drive up and there is no firewood/ice/or any supplies anywhere on the mountain.
- The woman's bathroom had 2 stalls. One large and one small. No soap dispenser, but someone left a hand soap pump which was pretty nice of them. Electric hand dryer. No showers. Sink for your dishes is attached to the restrooms. It got pretty dirty and muddy, but in the morning it was cleaned up.
- We didn't see any wildlife besides 1 squirrel. But there is some massive spiders (look like red daddy long legs) and had a few bees. Lightning bugs were hardly there, but the mosquitoes were hardly there too.
- We walked the closest trail, very muddy. The creek/river was super pretty but it was super cold. Not much scenery on the trail besides the fun wood bridge at the beginning. We ended up driving an hour to the big creek section of the Smokies. We went on the Big Creek Trail which led to Midnight Hole (which is a beautiful swimming hole). Its at another campground that also has white water rafting.
- There is an old church next to the campground that is open and very lovely.
- There's also a look over stop. Its 100% worth stopping at.
- Overall, we enjoyed that everyone at the campground pretty much went to bed around 11pm. The campground seems like its taken care of. Personally I'd rather stay at a campground with a little more adventure (and maybe showers). The campground is very small so it'll only take up to 5 minutes to walk the whole place.
Tent Camping specific: Cataloochee is my favorite campground in the great Smoky Mountains national Park. It’s secluded, on the small side, and quiet. It’s very much a family campground, and there seem to be a lot of regulars that camp here year after year. I know our family does.
As a tent camper, I look for campgrounds where there are not going to be a plethora of large RVs. The last thing I want to hear when I’m out camping is somebody’s TV playing at full blast and the generator going all night. I’ve never had this happen at Cataloochee. Yes, some people use generators, but it usually tends to only be for an hour or two during the day which I can handle. What keeps out the large RVs? This:
“Access to Cataloochee is via a narrow, winding, mountain road. A 3-mile stretch of gravel road contains many narrow, blind curves. Though many campsites will accommodate large rigs, motorhomes over 32' and trailers over 25' in length are not recommended due to the access road. “
The road is quite the trip just in a car, and I can’t imagine driving a large RV on it. There are two approach roads. There’s one that goes from Big Creek Campground to Cataloochee. I would recommend this one because of how scenic it is, but we once got stuck behind a tractor trailer on the small gravel road and had to sit there for an hour in order to get going again.
The campground specifics: there are flush toilets and there is drinking water, but that’s it. No electrical hook ups. This is bear country, so put your food up, along with any scented health and beauty items. Tent pad is 16‘ x 16‘. You can collect the dead wood, but please don’t bring firewood into the park unless it’s been specially treated.
Reservations are highly recommended, but it is possible except on the busiest weekends to occasionally snag one of the not so prime sites. And even the not so prime sites are still wonderful because of this campground. Just keep checking Recreation.gov to see what comes available.
There’s great fishing, great hiking and a lot of historical buildings to explore. There’s an area of the stream where little kids can easily play which is important because I have a three-year-old. Lots of people bike throughout this area of the park because there’s not a lot of traffic. Fishing is great, just do your research on what is effective on the trout in this area and what the rules and regulations for fishing in the park are. And there’s elk! They have their babies at the beginning of June and mid September through October is their mating season, so you can hear their strange whistles.
Site specific: Sites 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are located along the stream. 1, 2, 4 & 6 are across the the road from the waterfront sites. Sites 11-15, 17-19 are on the outside of the loop. Sites 20-27 are located on the road that bisects village. The best sites? 5 & 10. They are really nicely sited with the tent pad quite a distance from the gravel road around the campground. All of the other waterfront sites are great. Site 11 is not waterfront, but it’s spacious and private. The worst sites are those on the road that bisects the Loop Road.
LET ME BE VERY CLEAR: any campsite at Cataloochee is worth reserving. They’re all nice. You can hear the water from any of them. They are paths that lead behind the campground to the river so it’s just a matter of walking a few more feet. Your neighbors might be a little close, but with the ambience of this campground, it won’t feel like that.
I’ve stayed in Cataloochee every year for the past six years. I’ve stayed at almost every other campground in the park. Cataloochee is just fantastic. To prove that point, we have three stays reserved this year for our family. So go! You won’t regret it.
Oh, what a wonderful place to camp!!🙂 A small campground ⛺️, and u need reservations, early, to see the Elk rutting in early October. It’s a long 13 miles into the valley down a very narrow, curvy gravel road, so I wouldn’t try w/o reservations! We spent 5 nights and watched them early am and afternoons every day. They will get up close-and personal. The rangers keep a watch out, tho, and try to warn u if they are coming too close. They are wild and rutting and will run over u!! There are historical homesteads, a school, churches and cemetery to take you back in time. Trails by creeks there to hike. Bears, turkeys, deer and the Elk😍 We were in campsite 11 close to the creek. Large and quiet for the most part. No electricity, no problem. A couple of water spigots centrally located and a dish washing station. Bath house was a little ways from us, but we could drive and park there. No showers or hot water. That’s fine. We had the Elk😂😂Loved it all!!!
There is drinking water. No electricity, so if you need to charge your battery, you’ll need to have a generator. The wild life here is so wonderful. If you want to see the elk, you’re going to have to be up early. I use to be in the park at 5 AM with night vision gear, I saw some very nice elk. If you go in the winter, the elk are out eating most of the day. The rut here usually goes on from about Late October through December. I had about 40 rolls of film with just elk.
So much to see. It’s easy to spend a couple of days exploring the historical sites, walking trails, watching the elk herd (especially during the fall rut period) and admiring the natural beauty of the Great Smokey Mountains with less than the usual crowds. This is because access to the campground requires a challenging drive down a one lane dirt road. Believe me, you don’t want to try this in wet conditions.
But the trip is well worth the challenge. The campsite is a loop in the pines along a creek. It’s a 15 minute walk to the pastures where you can see the elk herd in the early morning or at dusk. Get up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the mountain and streak across the meadow.
I absolutely love camping and hiking in this area, especially in the fall. Keep an eye out for the elk too! If you go the right time of year, you can hear them bugling. 😍
After a steep, curvy road of about 10 miles from a main road, you will get to this campsite. The good thing about it is that you really feel as if you are experiencing nature at its finest. The bad thing is that you will be far from the nearest town or store. The road is single lane access at times, but the drive is WELL WORTH IT. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you can drive about a mile, and sometimes less, to see elk and lots of them. There are few amenities--no access to electricity, no on-site water, no showers, etc., but the sites are large enough that you don't feel crammed in. As far as the amenities, if you are prepared, water and electricity is not a huge factor. If you like hiking, there are miles of hiking trails, especially since this campground is located in a national park. There are also several historic structures in the area--a school, a church, barns, old houses, etc.
This is an unbelievable area! We took our small camper and stayed during the Elk Rut and it was incredible! Our dog came too and we were able to hike and get some great pictures of elk in the valley!