There is a lot of incredible wildlife in Smoky Mountain National Park. A drive through the park could yield sites of deer, turkeys, and various other woodland creatures. But there is nothing more exciting than seeing a black bear. It’s a heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing moment that you will remember your whole life. What makes seeing a bear so exciting? Is it the sparsity of their population, and their skittish nature? Or could it be their perceived ferocity? There are many things that make bears exciting to see, and fortunately, there are few better places to spot one than in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
According to the National Park Service, there are an estimated 1,500 black bears in Smoky Mountain National Park. That equates to roughly two bears per square mile. This number may make it seem like a bear encounter is almost inevitable for a park visitor, but bears are actually very reclusive and tend to shy away from the sounds of humans.
With bear encounters in mind, park-goers shouldn’t avoid hiking or camping for fear of bears. Instead, taking the necessary precautions can help you to enjoy the park, without putting yourself at unnecessary risk. According to the National Park Service, if you see a bear while you are on a hike, do not approach it. Observe it from a respectful distance, and do not make any sudden movements. Also, do not allow the bear to approach you. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior, then you are too close and should slowly back away. Being too close to a bear may cause it to act aggressively. In this instance, back away slowly while maintaining visual contact, and the bear will most likely do the same. Bears are unlikely to attack humans, but nevertheless, they are wild animals and should be treated with a healthy respect. Also, keep in mind that “willfully approaching [a bear] within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the [Great Smoky Mountains National Park]. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals.”
With all of this in mind, there are many beautiful places throughout the park that give visitors the best opportunity to spot a bear — either from the trail or their vehicle. Knowing a little bit more about black bear behavior will also increase your chances of seeing one. Black bears will typically spend the daylight hours foraging or sleeping high in trees, or sleeping in the shade beneath one. The best opportunities to spot a bear will typically be early in the morning, or in the late afternoon/evening. This is when black bears typically search for food and can be seen moseying around searching for something to eat. If you plan your bear spotting within this time frame, you will give yourself the best opportunity to see one. But where should you go? Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a great location for either hiking or viewing from your car. Roaring Fork is known for giving visitors a great opportunity to see all kinds of wildlife, including bears. Cade’s Cove is another great location for wildlife spotting. Visitors have reported all kinds of animal sightings due to the openness of the landscape.
Spotting a bear while vacationing in a national park can be a wonderful and memorable experience. And whether you hope to see one or not, gaining even just a little bit of bear knowledge can help provide the best opportunity to see one or keep you and your family safe. As long as you give the animals the respect they deserve, and keep a safe distance, your bear-spotting experience should be fun and memorable.