Black bears are the darlings of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and many of the millions of annual visitors go to great lengths to espy one of these beautiful creatures.
These magnificent yet reclusive mammals can be found throughout the park, but there are several areas where you are more likely to have a close encounter of the “bear” kind.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas for bear spotting for a variety of reasons. The large open fields are devoid of trees and allow bear seekers to scan many acres of ground at a time. It is not uncommon to see a bear at long range lumbering along in the middle of the cove.
Another bear hot-spot is the Cherokee Orchard just outside of Gatlinburg. The traditional bear watch starts about an hour before sunset and continues until dark in season.
Bears are most active in the Fall as they load up on calories in preparation for denning all winter. Bears do not hibernate is the truest sense of the word, since they can be easily roused and will often emerge from the den prior to the onset of Spring.
As a result, you won’t see many bears in the winter, and they are less active in Summer than in Spring or Fall.
It’s exciting to see a bear in the wild, but caution should always be exercised. Bears are very strong, fast, and powerful WILD animals. They may look cute, but they are unpredictable. Be especially wary in the backcountry where bears are less likely to have encountered many humans.
A she-bear is especially dangerous if she senses that her cubs are threatened. Never approach ANY bear in the park, even the smallest cubs because of the dangers posed by a protective parent!
One of the biggest traffic problems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are “bear-jams.” Bear-jams occur when excited visitors block roads and stop interrupt the flow of traffic when a bear is spotted. If you want to stop your vehicle, be sure to pull off the road far enough to allow traffic to continue moving.
Also, watch traffic in both directions and do NOT walk on roads. Many visitors become so excited that they forget to be mindful of oncoming vehicles. Always walk OFF the roadway, be courteous at all times.
Wildlife viewing in the Smokies can create memories that last a lifetime. Always remember that YOU are a visitor, but that the park is HOME to the animals. Allow them to live unmolested by your presence.