Updated: Sep 16, 2021
The annual elk rut was in full swing a couple weeks ago in Smoky Mountains National Park and I was lucky enough to get up there to experience it. The best place to watch in my opinion is at Cataloochee Valley. This is the north east corner of the park and it is not connected to the main park, a separate and fairly long drive over a narrow and bumpy dirt rd must be traversed and, lucky for some of us, the faint of heart are attracted elsewhere. I don't know about you but I like to experience nature with nature, not people, as much as possible.
The other best location is at the Oconaluftee visitors center on the south side just outside of Cherokee. This area is very crowded. Luckily the elk don't seem to mind too much and the park rangers and volunteer staff do a good job of keeping people from getting to close to the animals and keeping the traffic flowing.
Even if you are dutifully keeping your distance you have to be careful because the animals can't read those signs, they will come close to you, sometimes very quickly. You will see a couple of shots here where a bull was running away from another and right toward myself and a small group of others at Cataloochee. He looked right into my lens and headed in only to veer off when the entire group of photographers scattered. That is when I was able to get some nice close ups. Unfortunately, I don't shoot much action and I was rusty and keeping everything sharp was challenging .
Sony a7riii, 70-200mm f4.0