If you’re wondering whether you’ll catch a glimpse of wildlife while in the Smokies, the answer is a definite, “Yes!” With a diverse population of wildlife including Smoky Mountain black bears, deer, wild turkeys and more, these hills are a sanctuary for more than 66 species of mammals. To prepare you for your visit, here are a few things to know about where and when to spot Smoky Mountain bears and other native Smoky Mountain wildlife.
Smoky Mountain Bears
With more than 1,500 bears roaming the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s a good chance you’ll see one if you visit during the right times. One of the best places to see bears in the Smoky Mountains is in Cades Cove because of the high density of trees and berry bushes, including blackberry, huckleberry and blueberry.
The best time to see Smoky Mountain bears is during summer because their hibernation season is from November through April. In summer, they are roaming in search of food after a long semi-hibernation.
If you’re on the lookout for bears, be sure to slow down on the Loop Road around the denser areas where there is thick tree coverage. Be sure to look up as well because black bears have curved claws that are great for climbing trees.
Don’t bother looking for black bears during the heat of the day because they usually rest during the warmest hours of the day and are more active during early morning or late evening around 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. Occasionally, a bear will venture out in the heat when hungry, but it is rare. The Cades Cove Loop Road is open to visitors during the summer months from sunrise to sunset each day.
Another great place to catch sight of bears is Newfound Gap Road on U.S. Route 441. Sometimes bears can be seen at the Roaring Fork Motor Trail’s densely forested areas as well. Bears have been seen wandering hillsides, resting at the tops of trees and foraging for berries, so keep your eyes open because they could be anywhere!
For additional information on Smoky Mountain bears, see the National Park Service link below.
Other Smoky Mountain Wildlife
Now that you know the best places to see bears in the Smoky Mountains, we have a few tips for viewing other Smoky Mountain wildlife. Outside of the three we’re highlighting, the park is also home to turtles, snakes, raccoons, moles, bats, foxes, lizards, chipmunks and many more. Just by entering the park, you have a great chance of seeing native wildlife.
White-tailed deer live throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and are one of the easiest animals to catch sight of. These animals prefer open, grassy fields and valleys in areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee.
Deer are often seen on foggy mornings and afternoons and are known to graze right after a rain shower.
Wild turkeys spend a great deal of time searching the ground for insects, berries and nuts. They travel in flocks, so, if you see one, don’t be surprised to see a group nearby.
Turkeys inhabit most areas of the park, but they prefer lower elevations. We recommend looking around Cades Cove or the valley near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park currently holds 120 elk after reintroducing 20 into the habitat in 2001. This record number of elk can be seen in the early mornings or late evenings around the Cataloochee Valley. Keep in mind that elk are only found in the North Carolina side of the Smokies, about a 2-hour drive from Gatlinburg.
It is especially important to keep your distance when viewing elk because these are the largest park wildlife, reaching up to 700 pounds each.
Wildlife Viewing Safety Tips
- Keep Your Distance. It’s important to remember that these are wild animals. Disturbing an animal by getting too close is not only illegal but dangerous. The National Park Service requires visitors to stay at least 50 yards away from all wildlife.
- Don’t Feed the Animals. Smoky Mountain bears search for food in early summer because there are few berries for them to eat. If you leave food outside or feed an animal, it is dangerous for yourself and other park visitors.
- Time Your Visit. Most wild animals are not active during the hottest hours of the day. The best times for wildlife viewing are early morning around sunrise and evening around sunset.
- Stay Quiet. Most animals have a great sense of hearing, so staying quiet will give you more time to enjoy the view without scaring them away.
After spending time exploring the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll love having a place to rest and relax right outside the national park. That’s why our cabins are the perfect place to stay! We have cabin rentals in Gatlinburg that are a nature lover’s dream with stunning outdoor views and a convenient location. Book your cabin today and start planning your vacation. See you in the Smokies!