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black bear outside of a van in gatlinburg

Family of Black Bears in Gatlinburg Break into Vans, Steal Snacks (Video Included!)

A Michigan family was in for quite the surprise when they vacationed in Gatlinburg recently! Shortly after they arrived at their rental, they looked outside to see a mother black bear and her two cubs outside. Watch the video below of the black bears in Gatlinburg breaking into, not one, but TWO vans, and learn more about black bears in the Smoky Mountains!

Black Bears Break Into Van

A family of black bears in Gatlinburg was feeling hungry recently when it broke into a visiting family’s vans looking for food. In the video, the mother bear can be seen opening the door to the van before climbing inside. Her two cubs followed shortly after before the mother moved on to the next van. The bears were able to get away with a box of Pop-Tarts and some other snacks. They even tried opening a water bottle! The video was shared on Facebook by ABC World News, and you can watch it below.

Bear Safety in Gatlinburg

When you visit Gatlinburg, it’s important to be aware of how to avoid bear encounters and what to do if you happen to see one. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • A black bear with his paw on a rearview mirror.Keep all car doors locked at all times.
  • Keep food secured.
  • Keep grills clean and free of leftover scraps.
  • Don’t leave trash sitting out. Make use of bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters.
  • Keep your distance if you see a bear.
  • Never run from bears.
  • Back away from the bear slowly if you spot one.

History of Black Bears in the Smoky Mountains

black bear in the smoky mountainsThe national park was created in 1934, when not even 100 black bears inhabited the area. Around 1970, the black bear population had grown to somewhere between 300 and 500 bears. Since then, the number of black bears have continued to grow. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park estimates a total of about 1,500 black bears. In the summer months, male black bears average about 250 pounds, and females average about 100 pounds. In the fall, they as much as double their weight, some as big as 600 pounds being documented in the park! According to the National Park Service website, black bears in the Smoky Mountains can live up to 12 to 15 years; however, black bears who have had access to human food tend to cut that life expectancy in half. That’s why it’s so important to keep any food or trash you have secured and away from the bears when you visit!

Where to Spot Black Bears in Gatlinburg and the Smokies

black bear in the smoky mountainsWe know that spotting Smoky Mountain wildlife, especially black bears, is exciting on vacation! Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to safely view wildlife when you visit. In the national park, some of the most common spots to see black bears are Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. In both locations you can observe them from the comfort of your car! Black bears are most active during early mornings and late evenings when traffic is less heavy in those areas. Be sure to bring binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens to get a closer look at the bears! Here are a couple other places you can spot black bears in Gatlinburg and around the Smoky Mountain area:

Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter: The Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg is home to a friendly black bear family and a number of other species who live in the Smokies. This exhibit allows you to see the animals in a safe and controlled environment! There are black bears, river otters, bobcats, birds, and more.

Three Bears General Store in Pigeon ForgeThree Bears General Store: If you’re in the Pigeon Forge area, stop by the Three Bears General Store. You can see 3 black bears in their live bear habitat and even have the chance to feed them. The habitat is 5,000 square feet and complete with a pond and a waterfall. Each bear has an individual den to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. After you see the bears, you can build a stuffed one of your own in the store’s Make-UR-Bear Factory!

If you’re interested in learning more about black bears in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, read our blog, “Where and When to Spot Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife.”