Photographing Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Where, When and Why

Bull elk bugling during rut
Bull elk bugling during rut

Story & photos by Tom Croce

As nature photographer, one of my favorite things is showing someone a picture of a beautiful elk bull, and then asking them where it was taken. They usually guess the Rocky Mountains or somewhere out west. It’s fun to see their expression when I tell them no, it was taken in North Carolina! Perhaps one of the most important things we do as nature photographers is educate and help bring awareness to the plight of animals in the wild. Equally important is highlighting the programs where thoughtful, patient intervention has helped ensure that these wild places remain wild for future generations. One such program is the United States National Park Service’s reintroduction of the majestic elk to the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s the why. But where are the best places to photograph elk and when are the best times?

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bump: Autumn in the Smokies paints these venerable mountains with a riot of brilliant colors.
Bump: Autumn in the Smokies paints these venerable mountains with a riot of brilliant colors.

Story & photos by Jerry Ginsberg

The Basics

It doesn’t have the granite domes of Yosemite or the geysers of Yellowstone, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts over 11 million visitors each year making it the most popular in the nation. That’s more than Yosemite, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks combined.

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