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88 Entries
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!!!

Bette Caffrey 

Both Ray and I love the tours we have had with Esther.  After our first tour last fall, we returned for a second tour this summer.  Esther is so gracious and knowledgeable, making our time with her a true viewing and learning experience.  We will be forever grateful for the time she has spent with us.  I highly recommend Cataloochee Valley Tours for a visual feast of wildlife and scenery.

Steve W. 

We spent a lovely evening with Esther in June when she led us on a late-night tour of the area's synchronous firefly displays. She's bright, funny, very well-informed and is such an expert on the local wilderness. Our group of four felt as if we were the only people on earth as we listened to her expert dissertations of local wildlife and witnessed the amazing displays as if she'd arranged them just for us. It was an unforgettable evening for all. 

Jan Zerbe 


Thank you Esther for the highlight of our first trip to the Smoky Mountains. We are looking forward to our return trip next year.  Your knowledge of the history of the mountains, plants, flowers, animals, settlers and so much more was fascinating.   Your sincerity about the mountains brings a calmness to everyone that hears you speak about this very special place.  My husband and I thank you for an amazing evening.  Jan and Bill Zerbe

Donna Boxman Email

We found Esther through our mutual membership with the Maggie Valley Chamber.  Esther is a real asset to Maggie with her inspired and well organized trips to Cataloochee.  Four of us took the tour to see the synchronous fireflies.  What a magical experience!  Esther and her expert driving took us over the mountain and safely dropped us into the fantasy land of fireflies, elk and the historic valley.  The fact that the fireflies only appear one month out of the year adds to the mystery of this outing.  Esther, thank you for sharing your discovery of these unique fireflies.

jacqueline stackhouse 

Thank you Esther for the amazing trip to see the fireflies.  It was the perfect gift for my great niece and again magical for me.  Your commentary was an added plus.  hope to go again next year.

Cynthia Ewing 

Thank you, Esther for sharing the wonderful experience of observing the synchronous fire flies!  It was so special to be able to share this with my parents who are in their mid-eighties! You are such a safe and careful driver and taught us so much during the tour.  It was awesome to stand in the dark and view the fire flies putting on their show for us!  I recommend this highly to others.

RL Browne 

Thank you Esther for one of the most lovely wildflower hikes we have ever taken.  We were so impressed with your knowledge and enthusiasm.  This really was a highlight of our trip to the mountains.  Ron & Lisa

Linda and Richard Kanner Email

Meeting Esther, listening to her talk on elk and the Cataloochee Valley, birdwatching with her and the piece de resistance - the morning tour to see the elk were the absolute highlights of our trip to the Smoky Mountains.  We were so lucky to have found Esther.
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