Off the beaten track: Uncrowded national parks-North Carolina

Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

This little-known cousin to Great Smoky's famous Cades Cove was one of the region's most thriving communities a century ago, counting 1,200 residents in 1910. Today, though, it draws no crowds to its historic buildings, rolling orchards, meadows or forests. It does, however, attract elk, wild turkeys and black bear.

You must negotiate a winding, 11-mile gravel road near Dellwood, N.C., to reach Cataloochee, nestled near the park's eastern border. Make the journey, though, and this road will carry you back into a 19th- and early-20th-century landscape rimmed by 6,000-foot mountains and enclosing some of the park's best examples of historic frame buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Palmer House, a vintage "dog trot" construction, features two log cabins (that later were planked over) tied together by a covered porch popular with dogs on long, hot summer days. Today, the house doubles as a museum of the valley and offers a video that provides an interesting oral history recorded by descendants of the valley's settlers.

Elsewhere in the valley you can find the Palmer Chapel, the Caldwell House that is sandwiched by two covered porches and the Beech Grove Schoolhouse, a two-room structure built in 1901.

There are 27 sites at the Cataloochee Campground, where you can find respectable trout fishing in Cataloohchee Creek.

For a roof overhead at night, check out the Abbey Inn (, 1-800-545-5853) in nearby Maggie Valley, N.C., or head over to Cherokee, N.C. (
1-877-433-6700) with its many options