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76 Entries
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!

Par & Ken Gregory Email

Ken and I took an eco-elk tour at the very end of April, 2014.  Esther was ill, so Tim subbed in her place.  We enjoyed the tour immensely; Tim was easy to converse with and entertained us with many stories of the area and its inhabitants, both people and animals.  We would highly recommend this tour to anyone who would like to venture into a beautiful natural area, where peace and quiet is still attainable.

Jackie and Roy Ramey 

The recent tour we took to see the Synchronous Fireflies was AMAZING! This is a trip a small child to an elderly person would enjoy. 
We were picked up by Esther at our B&B in a very comfortable vehicle and driven to the site of the fireflies.  We were actually taken to 4 different sites and the fireflies really put on a great show.
I would recommend Esther for any type of tour, and actually we are returning to the area in September for her to take us on the Elk Tour. 

Lemar Sheaffer 


Cataloochee Valley Tours is amazing, so is Esther.  The untouched beauty of the valley is breath taking and the elk are simply amazing.  It is a special gift to see these creatures in their natural habitat. We learned things and saw things we would have never learned/seen if we had made this journey on our own.  Esther was so gracious and didn't mind all my picture taking.  Her knowledge of the area and wildlife  is very impressive.  It truely was a memorable and most enjoyable evening.  A treasured memory for sure!   If you are in the area make time to do one of her tours you will be so glad you did.  Our tour was at 5:30, we arrived early and spend the afternoon in the charming little town of Waynesville, NC, also a hidden gem. 

Belinda Peres Email

Thank you so much Esther for a wonderful afternoon in the beautiful Cataloochee Valley with you and all the elk.  It was by far the most memorable event of our vacation.  Your knowlege and good humor are charming and gracious.  Belinda, Clovis, John and Lisa Peres

Mary Thornton 

We "discovered" Esther and her fabulous elk tour through the Oak Hill B & B on Love Lane, Waynesville on our latest trip to western NC.  She met and far exceeded our expectations for this adventure.  Her enthusiasm was contagious, her wealth of knowledge enormous, and her gracious spirit made for a most enjoyable day.  She seems to have an intuitive feel for her guests desires/needs--comfortable vehicle, multiple opportunities to capture that special photo, hot cocoa, yummy snacks, potty breaks, answers to a myriad of questions.  Can you tell we loved our trip?!  We can't wait to experience another tour with Esther.

Joyce Sutherland Email

The Cataloochee Elk Tour was the highlight of our visit to the mountains of North Carolina! It far surpassed our expectations. Esther was delightful and very knowledgeable.  The tours are very small and intimate and guests are able to take many photos of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. We saw many elk at a gorgeous time of day. I'm sure we will see Esther again and join her for her Spring and Summer tours. Don't miss this!

Tim Foxworth Email


Me and Wife took the tour with Esther on Sept.26, 2013, it was the greatest tour we have every taken.  Esther is very knowledgeable of her job and answered all the questions we asked her.  I would recommend the cataloochee valley tour to everyone that goes to this area.  We were able to see lots of Elk and also some deer.  We even plan on doing the Firefly tour in June with Esther.  Thanks for such a wonderful experience, Tim and Gatsey Foxworth

Mitch & Alice Link 

It's hard to know where to begin talking about Cataloochee Valley Tours and Esther. From the moment she picks you up until you return you are in the presence of a charming and cordial hostess.The valley, the surroundings, and the elk exhibit a beauty and natural serenity that can sooth, amaze, and inspire all at the same time, and we spend a lot of time in nature. Perhaps that, combined with a constant sense of excitement, boundless enthusiasm, and a wealth of knowledge about the animals and the history of the area is what makes Esther Blakely's tours so very special. It almost seems as if she's taking the tour herself for the first time every time she points something out -- she bubbles with an excitement that is contagious and infectious. Her tours and what she imparts to your day are worth ever penny. Treat yourself to a wonderful experience with this tour.

Tom & Judy Kulinski 

Tom was not initially enthused about going on an elk tour, but Esther was such a wonderful, knowledgeable guide that he thoroughly enjoyed the elk tour. Our party of four had a wonderful trip and saw many more elk than we thought we would.  We would recommend this tour with Esther to everyone!!!
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