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Elk Rut in Great Smoky Mountains NP Regional Event (Sept 26-29, 2024)

September 26 - September 29

Leader | Travel and lodging | What to expect | General Information

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Event Overview


Join photographer Tom Croce in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to photograph the elk rut in the Cataloochee Valley, along the Oconaluftee River and up Balsam Mountain. We will plan on spending mornings and evenings photographing elk along the Oconaluftee River and the Cataloochee Valley. We’re also likely to catch a shot of the animals crossing the Oconaluftee River. At dawn the valley often will be filled with a thick layer of fog and the sound of the bulls bugling. As the sun rises above the mountains the light can be beautiful, offering some great opportunities for habitat shots, or light filtering through the trees. Typically, once the sun rises above the mountains and the fog burns off, the animals head into the forest to bed down avoiding the heat of the day. During the day the valley can be eerily quiet but, as the sun starts to drop, the sounds of bugling bulls again announce their presence, followed by the cows and calves returning to the valley. There is nothing like watching two of the big bulls fighting. A fight can be as short as a couple minutes, or as long as 20-30 minutes, depending on how evenly matched they are, and the action can be very exciting.

NANPA is an Authorized Permittee of the National Park Service.

Early Registration:  $715 NANPA Members/$915 Non-members by July 1, 2024

After July 1, 2024:  $815 NANPA Members/$1015 Non-members

Last Date to Register:  July 31, 2024

Maximum Number of Participants: 10


Thursday, September 26, 2024 at 5:00pm to Sunday, September 29, 2024 at noon.

Post event Image Sharing and Feedback Webinar for participants: October 16, 2024 EDT (optional)

Registration and Meet & Greet

September 26, 2024 at 5:00pm at the hotel meeting room

©Tom Croce


Tom Croce

Tom Croce is a professional photographer based in South Western Ohio. Tom graduated with a BED degree from Miami University School of Fine Art in 1984 and with a Master of Architecture from Washington University in 1987.

Tom works with all the compositional elements, line, form, texture, light, and shadow to create his award-winning nature and wildlife images.

He believes that photography begins with the act of seeing, it is the art of noticing and seeing the beauty in nature and then capturing that moment in time, through the lens.

Through his images Tom works to create environmental portraits that are expressions of the emotion and feeling of a place at the time of making the exposure, and to create images that capture a sense of time and place.

Tom pursues his passion for nature and wildlife photography offering prints and workshops. To see more of his work visit

Travel and lodging

The base for this event will be in Maggie Valley, NC:

NANPA is holding a block of hotel rooms for event participants for the rate of $120.00 per night + tax at a hotel in Maggie Valley. Hotel details will be shared with registered participants.

The last date to book a room in the NANPA room block is July 31, 2024.

Airports and Ground Transportation

The nearest airport to Maggie Valley is Asheville (AVL) Airport which is 32.2 miles away.

Other nearby airports include Knoxville (TYS) (54.3 miles), Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP) (66.4 miles) and Charlotte (CLT) (123.8 miles).

Transportation to and from the hotel and during the event is not included and is the attendees’ responsibility.

RIDE SHARING:  We will be starting each day from the hotel in Maggie Valley. Ridesharing is encouraged to reduce the size of our vehicle presence (our permit limits us to no more than 6 vehicles) and improve the traveling/following experience. You are welcome to either drive or ride with someone. This is also a great way to meet people and make new friends during the event!

Note that NANPA does not have insurance for carpooling arrangements and assumes no liability for them. Carpooling, ride sharing or anything similar is strictly a private arrangement among the participants. Participants assume the risks associated with this travel.

All meals, except Brunch on the last day, are on your own. The location of the Sunday Group Brunch, which is included in the event registration fee, will be shared at the Meet and Greet. Attendees are encouraged to eat together with their group as part of the overall experience.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee. However, parking tags are required for all vehicles parking for longer than 15 minutes.

Parking Tag Basics

  • Three tag durations are available for purchase for all vehicle sizes and types:
    • Daily – $5
    • Weekly – $15
    • Annual – $40
  • Parking tags are not replaceable, refundable, transferable, or upgradable.
  • Each tag is valid for a single vehicle and must include a license plate number matching the vehicle in which it is displayed.
  • Parking tags are available for purchase both online and onsite.
  • Display of physical parking tags in each vehicle is required. Digital representations are not accepted.
  • Parking tags are not location-specific. A parking tag is required to park anywhere within the boundaries of the Smokies.
  • Parking tags are not required for motorists who pass through the area or who park for less than 15 minutes.
  • Interagency passes (senior, access, etc.) are not accepted in lieu of a parking tag.

For more information on where to purchase parking tags please visit

©Tom Croce

What to expect

The areas we are photographing are located in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

This event is timed to coincide with the elk rut. During the rut the bull elk come down from the mountains and gather in the Cataloochee Valley, an isolated valley surrounded by some of the most rugged mountains in the eastern United States, and along the Oconaluftee River where we will attempt to photograph the river crossing.

Elk became regionally extinct in the North Carolina /Tennessee area of the United States by the mid-1800s due to hunting and loss of habitat. There were similar issues elsewhere and many other states began losing this magnificent animal. By the turn of the century, the elk population in the United States dropped to the point that both hunting and conservation groups were concerned the species was heading for nationwide extinction. The National Park Service began to study the reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1990s. The elk population in the Great Smoky Mountains appears to be slowly increasing, from the 52 animals first introduced, to the 200 or so individuals now ranging along the North Carolina–Tennessee border.

Photography Locations

Some of the locations that we will most likely photograph include: areas along the Oconaluftee River, near Cherokee NC, and in the Cataloochee Valley.

Your leader will have visited the areas prior to the event and the field trip locations will be based on what’s most photogenic at the time, weather conditions, etc. Tom will announce the location for the next day’s shoot at the end of each day.


Please note schedules provided in advance are always preliminary, the final schedule may be different due to weather / light conditions, and other variables.

Thursday, September 26, 2024

  • Arrival and check into hotel.
  • Meet and greet 5 pm in the hotel meeting room:

Welcome, introductions and opening remarks by Tom followed by a short presentation on photographing the rut, camera settings, things to watch for, and safety.

Friday, September 27, 2024

Sunrise 7:28 am, Sunset 7:24 pm

  • Morning shoot – We will depart the hotel lobby at 6:30 in order to arrive at our shooting location along the Oconaluftee River by 7:00 and stay out until the Elk retreat into the mountains
  • Return for late breakfast / early lunch
  • Midday rest and image review
  • Depart 4:00 PM for Evening shoot
  • Dinner

Saturday, September 28, 2024

  • Similar schedule to Friday, but we will relocate to the Cataloochee Valley

Sunday, September 29, 2024

  • Sunrise shoot (optional): Tom can suggest a location along the Blue Ridge Parkway for those wishing to shoot a sunrise
  • Morning shoot – The activity levels at the previous day’s shoots will determine the morning shooting location.

Brunch with the Group (included in the fee). The event wraps up after brunch. at approximately noon.

©Tom Croce

General Information

We will be based in Maggie Valley, NC during this Regional Event.

Please keep in mind that this NANPA Regional Event is designed to be a photo tour, not workshop. That said, don’t be shy about asking Tom for help if you need it. This tour is open for 10 participants to give each plenty of time with the leader and to retain flexibility based on weather and the best opportunities.

This event is designed for all levels of photographers – amateur, intermediate, advanced, and professional – interested in improving their photography skills or looking for location guidance to capture images of this magical park.  If you are new to photography, Tom will be available to answer questions, teach new techniques and help you improve your photographic skills.  If you already have plenty of photography experience, Tom will ensure that you’re in the best locations at the best times for those perfect shots. Other participants are also great about sharing techniques, tips, and ideas. Please know your camera before you arrive and bring your manual just in case, we need to look up something.

Attendance and participation at NANPA Regional Events is limited to registered attendees only.  Anyone wishing to participate in any portion of, or travel with a registered attendee during the group event must contact the NANPA office and pay the full registration fee.

Health and fitness

There will be no mountain hiking unless requested. Most shooting locations will be very close to where we park. A couple will require a walk, but will be flat. The length of the walk will be up to the participant and how much they wish, or are able to explore, there will be photographic possibilities along the way.

Weather & Clothing

The elevations in the park ranges from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and the topography can drastically affect local weather. Temperatures can easily vary 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from mountain base to top, and clear skies lower down do not guarantee equally pleasant weather at higher elevations. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome.

Some prior planning and weather-wise clothing choices will help ensure an enjoyable visit during any time of the year. Fall brings with it unpredictable weather. Changes occur rapidly. Late-September the weather is usually mild. Daytime temperatures are often in the 60s of 70s. Below freezing temperatures at night are possible in the lower elevations and can be expected at the higher elevations. Autumn is the driest period of the year with only occasional rain showers. In the higher elevations, snow is a possibility.

Tom recommends the following:

  • Weatherproof clothing that can be layered underneath.
  • Medium to heavy weight coat or jacket, hats and gloves.
  • Hiking Boots, preferable waterproof
  • Wading boots, for shooting near the river as the Elk cross.
  • Sun protection – Hat, sunscreen, etc.
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks for in the field.
  • Small flashlight or head lamp

Suggested Camera Gear:

  • Camera – DSLR or mirrorless, full frame or cropped sensor. Also, bring the camera manual should you need to consult it. Cellphone camera as backup is better than no camera and good for snaps of your group.
  • Lenses – There will likely be photo opportunities for lenses ranging from a short telephoto 70-200mm range up to a super telephoto 400mm to 600mm.
  • Non-abrasive Lens Cleaning Cloth and Wipes.
  • Tripod – we will be shooting at dawn and twilight and light levels are too low to photograph properly without a sturdy tripod. A lightweight carbon fiber tripod with a ball head is recommended.
  • Lots of Memory Card Storage – We use fast 64GB cards, good for stills & video.
  • Camera Battery Charger and Extra Batteries.
  • Sensor Cleaning Tools
  • Polarizing filter(s) to fit each of your lenses.
  • Shutter Release – You can use a locking cable release, a wireless remote, or the camera’s self-timer (except in BULB).
  • Rain Cover – For camera and lens protection.
  • Laptop Computer – for downloading, processing and viewing your images.
  • Image Processing Software – Good choices include Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Elements.
  • Back-up device – Such as an external hard drive.
  • Flash Drive – For sharing images.

Other Recommended Gear:

  • Flashlight &/or Headlamp – preferably with a red light, or cover with a red filter, to limit distracting others during night photography sessions.
  • Battery-powered Alarm Clock/Watch – In case cell phone service isn’t available. It’s better to bring your own alarm than miss a morning shoot!
  • Cell Phone
  • Water bottle.
  • Energy bars or other snacks

©Tom Croce


Regional Event Cancellation and No Refund Policy:  

NANPA will not offer any refunds for registrations for this event regardless of when the cancellation is made or the reason for the cancellation. NANPA reserves the right to cancel any event or activity due to insufficient registration or any unforeseen circumstances. NANPA will offer refunds if NANPA has to cancel the event. It also has the right to substitute presenters if those originally scheduled cannot attend. Registrants may purchase event insurance as part of the registration process through NANPA’s partner, Allianz. More information on this option will be shown during the checkout process for the event registration.

NOTE:  If you do not purchase event insurance at the time that you pay for your registration, you will NOT be able to go back and purchase it with Allianz later.

If you choose to purchase travel insurance separately, you can do so with your own insurance carrier, or NANPA members can receive a special travel insurance rate through USI Affinity/Travel Insurance Services.



September 26
September 29
Event Category:


USA States/Territories
North Carolina
Type of event
On Location
Cost range
$715 - $1015


Maggie Valley, NC
NC United States + Google Map