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85 Entries
Arjan & Monique van Gent 


We have been before in Canada and had seen some wildlife and even Elks. So we didn't really know what to expect here in the Cataloochee Valley. But this wildlife tour at the of September has exceeded our expectations. We were up close with the elks. And not just a few but over 20 elks were that night in the Valley. Woh, what a great and magnificent experience. The setting is very peaceful and serene. Even though we were not the only ones in the Valley. Tim is a great guide with a lot of knowledge and we had a lot of fun. We were the only 2 people that night who booked this tour, and that was even more special. We had a wonderful time in the Valley and we had a beautiful evening. We would certainly recommend this tour to everyone visiting the Great Smokey Mountains. Definitely worth the money.

Tim: thanks for taking such good care of us and sharing your knowledge about the Valley. And thanks for the great afternoon/evening. Last but not least: thanks for the souvenir we received afterwards.

Arjan en Monique van Gent, the Netherlands.

Kathie & Tom Bass 

We took the Evening Elk Tour mid-September and it was wonderful.  Tim was an excellent host and tour guide, very knowledgeable about the park, the early settlers in the valley and the wildlife.  The elk were everywhere and really put on a show for us!  Great time of year to go, the racks on the bull elk were huge, amazing, the bugling was fantastic and we enjoyed watching the bull elk chase the cows, and they were so close to us!  We also saw lots of wild turkeys all along the way in and out of the valley.  We will be back and have recommended the tour to many friends.  Thank you, Tim, for such an exciting, first class evening as we celebrated our wedding anniversary.

Larry and Mary Ann Ray Email

Mary Ann and I hosted a fraternity reunion during the week of September 12, 2016. We chose the ECO ELK Tour because of its uniqueness and its accessibility to our home in Highlands, NC. It was the highlight of the reunion. Esther and Tim were excellent hosts and tour guides. They explained what we would see on the way into the park and we saw exactly what we were promised. Esther and Tim care about the environment and conduct themselves in a very professional and caring manner. The tour was worth every cent and then some. If you get a chance, take the tour.

Dan & Peggy DuVall Email


On Monday evening 06/20/2016 at 5:30 PM we met up with Esther Blakely to begin our tour of the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was wonderful!!  Before we left Florida for our vacation trip, we had been told by friends from our church to be sure and see the elk in the Catalouchee Valley.  We had never seen elk in the wild.   So, while we were on the road, we googled and found Cataloochee Valley Tours.  At first look, the price of $80 each seemed a lot for a 4 hour tour that we might be able to do on our own.  But when the description of the road into the valley mentioned a gravel road we waffled a little on doing it with our car.  We decided to find out more info about the tour and called and left a message.  Shortly, Esther called us back and we had a great talk.  It was apparent from her enthusiasm that we needed to sign up.  It was a last minute thing but she just happened to have 2 seats available for the evening tour.  It was dark when we returned to our starting place.  We were comfortable in her Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV, along with another couple.  Esther runs an Eco-Tour Company.  We left no trace behind from our tour.  Esther is well informed on the area, wildlife, flowers and area history.  She took us to the spot where elk were reintroduced into the park valley in 2001 and heard about the wild life project.  We saw many elk, including bulls, cows and new calves and a glorious sunset.  During the tour she provide bottled water, binoculars for viewing, snacks and all we had to do was roll down the car windows as we listened and observed.  We stopped in several areas and viewed the surrounding area accompanied by stories and background about the valley.  She has personally talked with valley residents and relatives of the valley residents about the history of the area.  She is very well informed and has a genuine interest in the rich history of the Catalouchee Valley and its descendants.  She is motivated and dedicated regarding eco-tourism.  We highly recommend this tour.  The $80 was well spent!

Bob and Amy Cross 

We had the most wonderful time on our recent Firefly Tour!  Esther made the evening memorable with her knowledge and personable attention to every detail. Even the homemade cookies were spectacular!  We will be back for an Elk Tour!

Rhonda Wade Email

Had a great time on our 6/10 Firefly tour! 
Your knowledge of the fireflies, wildlife and the mountains in general made the night all the more special. Flashing fireflies, twinkling stars and a small, intimate group made this a memorable night.

Marilyn Windham Email

On June 7th we went on the firefly tour. This is our second tour, our first seeing the elk. I cannot say enough about our experiences in nature with Esther, who is so passionate and knowledgeable about the history and the environment of the area.
We will remember these trips for years to come. I highly recommend Cataloochee Valley Tours if you love nature and want a personal experience with a first class guide.

Mary and Steve McNeil 

We had the pleasure of going on the Firefly tour with friends and experienced something that we most likely could never have done without Esther's and Tim's knowledgeable guidance. 
A beautiful experience, for sure.

Donna and Tim Mahoney-Lynch Email

We were given this tour with Esther as a gift and in spite of living here for several years, had never heard of it.  The most encapsulating statement I can make is that it will no longer be the best kept secret around as we will be singing Esther's praises to the mountain tops!

The tour was beyond spectacular.  We had been to the valley before to view the elk , but it would be like comparing strawberries to strawberry shortcake as Esther added so many extras to make it a totally enjoyable experience.  Starting with the spotless hybrid, eco-friendly vehicle, all the way to the final reflection on the mountains, the tour was incredible!

If you are looking a a stress-free, informative,  educational, first class experience,  which is respectful of nature and the people who used to live in the  Cataloochee Valley community with someone who is knowledgeable about nature and history and a delightful person with whom to share a few hours, Esther is your gal!  [wink] God bless you and best wishes, Esther!!

Sharron & Paul W. 

My husband and I and another couple just took the Eco-Elk Tour in April with Esther and I won't ever forget it. Esther has a way of painting a picture and telling the story of the Cataloochee people and their way of life and about their sacrifices in order for us to be able to enjoy the very land they lived on.

Anybody can take this tour themselves but they won't really know the history about the land and the people that lived there. There are even some people still alive that lived there as children and Esther has had the opportunity to talk with some of them and has great stories that she tells about their life in the Cataloochee Valley. She has so much enthusiasm and expression when she talks about the Cataloochee people that you can start to picture what it was like for them so many years ago.

Esther is an excellent driver and knows the whole area like the back of her hand and we were glad for her to do all the driving on the very winding roads.

I highly recommend taking this tour, it was the highlight of our vacation!
PS...She also gives you good Treats!

Nancy and Steve 

We took the evening elk tour with our son's family and it was the highlight of our spring vacation! As other comments note, Esther is an exceptional, knowledgeable tour guide, and she made every minute interesting not only to us adults, but to our 3 grandkids, all under the age of 10. We recommend this tour to everyone. Be prepared: at the end as Esther repeats one of environmentalist John Muir's notable quotations and you watch the sun set over the majestic mountains, you may be moved to tears at the sheer beauty of it all.

Donald and Elizabeth Williams 

We took the Cataloochee Elk Tour right after Christmas.  The tour was absolutely beautiful.  With Esther as our guide, we were introduced to a time period of long ago and all but forgotten.  She is very knowledgeable in the history of the settlers, the geography, and the elk.  Being a conservationist, she brings the migration and the re-introduction of the elk to the Cataloochee Valley to life with her love and reverence and her enthusiasm for all aspects of the endeavor.  Her face shows the compassion she has when telling the heart-wrenching stories of how the settlers had to leave all they knew and begin life all over again.  She is an absolute delight to be around and to be educated by. We recommend this experience to all who visit the area; both young and the not-so-young.  The tour is primarily in a vehicle; not a walking tour for the entire four hours.  Cataloochee Valley itself offers you its natural beauty of sights and sounds and with Esther's narrations, the experience comes to life.  If you have been to Cataloochee on your own, you have visited the Valley.  If you take the Cataloochee Valley Elk Tour, you learn the Valley.....Esther, we hope to visit you again....   

Stuart and Debra 

Ester's tour was the highlight of our fall trip to the Carolinas. The majestic elk herds were a sight to behold, and Ester's knowledge of the area, the history, and the wildlife really enhanced our visit. We recommend this tour with a double thumbs up!

Bonnie Bridges Email

Riding into the beautiful Cataloochee Valley with Ester was a spiritual experience for me. She conveyed more than facts; she demonstrated love and respect for both the wildlife inhabitants of the area and the people of the past who sacrificed their own heritage so that all of us could enjoy this sanctuary of nature.

I was so thankful to get to see the elk again, and I am looking forward to a firefly tour! Thank you, Ester. You clearly love your job, and you do it well. (The memory of that treacherous road into the valley had made me think that I would never get to see it again. Your driving did not give me a single anxious moment even though I have a severe case of road anxiety!)

Jay and Renee Davis 

Oct 10th
Your eco-tour of the valley was a most wonderful experience, it far exceeded our expectations!  We came away with not only beautiful photographs of the valley and the elk, but a good understanding of the history of the area - thanks to your knowledge and expertise.  I HIGHLY recommend your tour to anyone thinking about visiting the area!
Thank you for sharing Cataloochee Valley with us!!!
Jay & Renee Davis

June Damanti 

If you're looking for a special experience, take one of Esther's tours. It's worth every dollar!  Within minutes of being picked up...a nice convenience, by the way...Esther felt like family. Her knowledge of Cataloochee is extensive and she shares it in a way that feels more like you're listening to oral history than a tour presentation.  I loved getting the information instead of just seeing the place without knowing its history.  And oh was nice to leave the driving to her as the road is not the easiest to traverse. 

Doc Lawrence Email

I am a veteran journalist and published author with a specialty in travel and tourism. My guided tours here in the USA and other countries have all been fascinating, but this one is equal to or better than any. Esther Blakely is articulate, informed and energetic. I was particularly impressed with the depth of her knowledge and compassion for the locals who were displaced by the National Park Service/Department of the Interior. She respects and honors the land and all creatures great and small. I am grateful to have this experience and without hesitation heartily recommend a tour with Esther. It's transformational!

David & Paula Hoffman Email

My husband and I travel quite a bit and usually shy away from any kind of guided tours because the guides usually are not very well informed.  We booked this tour with Esther Blakely on a whim and are so glad we did. 
First Esther is a lovely woman and loves the Cataloochee Valley and talks about it as most people talk about their own family.  Not only is she knowledgeable but absolutely loves her subject!!!  We learned and saw more in the short 3 hours we spent with her than we could have ever seen on our own and left feeling like we were leaving our home place!
We cannot recommend her tour enough - having read about Esther Blakely's accomplishments we felt honored to have such an esteemed guide.  We will visit her again!!!

Zev Haselkorn 

Esther is intelligent, informative, friendly, and she has a wonderful sense of humor. I highly commend her to you as a wonderful guide & host. 7/12/14


My family and I recently went on the elk tour with Esther.  This tour was the highlight of our vacation.  We saw lots of elk and learned so much about the valley's history.  I would recommend this tour to anyone.  We can't wait to plan our trip next year to include some of Esther's other tours!
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