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One of the most exciting parts about visiting the Smoky Mountains is getting the chance to see some wildlife, especially black bears. If you’re hoping to spot a black bear when you visit the Smokies, there are a few places you should go. To help you out, we’ve made a list of 4 of the best places to spot bears in the Smoky Mountains.
1. Cades Cove
Not only is Cades Cove one of the most popular spots in the Smokies, but it’s also one of the most popular places to see bears! The openness of Cades Cove makes it easier to spot black bears in the distance. Drive around the 11-mile loop road for the opportunity to see the black bears from the comfort of your car! Bears are most likely spotted in the early mornings and late evenings when traffic is light. Cades Cove is also great for seeing other Smoky Mountain wildlife, like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, coyotes and more.
When you visit Cades Cove, you can go for a hike, enjoy the scenic drive, and see historic structures like old homesteads and churches! You can spend a whole day exploring everything that Cades Cove has to offer.
2. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile, one-lane road that takes you through downtown Gatlinburg to Roaring Fork in less than an hour. The key to spotting a black bear along this road is to keep an eye on the trees. Bears, especially cubs, love playing around in the trees. One of the reasons it’s such a popular area for bears is because there are a lot of berries and nuts in the area. Like Cades Cove, the best times to spot the black bears are in the early mornings, late afternoons and evenings.
Other things you can expect to see along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are mountain streams, an old-growth forest, log cabins, grist mills and other historic buildings. Keep in mind that this road closes for the winter season.
3. Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter
If you want to be sure to spot black bears in the Smoky Mountains, visit Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter! The Wildlife Encounter is home to a black bear family, which includes Minnie and BJ and their two grown 6 year olds, Holly and Chief. This exhibit was created to provide visitors with the opportunity to get an up-close viewing of the native animals in a safe environment. Other animals you have the chance to see are river otters, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, Birds of Prey and more. Your best chance to see all the beautiful animals at this attraction is to visit in the spring, summer or fall before temperatures get too cold.
4. Three Bears General Store
Another place you’re sure to spot black bears is the Three Bears General Store in Pigeon Forge. This popular souvenir shop is also home to a live bear habitat. Not only can you see the bears, but you can feed them too! The bears were rescued from a hunting farm nearby and have been cared for for more than 25 years. Each of the three bears has its own individual den that is kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The two-level facility offers a great observation area! While you’re there, check out everything else Three Bears has to offer. There is ice cream, a fudge shop, an arcade, Christmas decorations and more. You even have the chance to take your own black bear home with you when you make one in the Make-UR-Bear Factory!
Black Bear Safety Tips
Any time you visit the Smoky Mountains in hopes of seeing a black bear, it’s important to follow these tips to ensure both you and the bears’ safety:
Stay at least 50 yards away at all times: The National Park Service requires people to stay at least 50 yards away from black bears and other wildlife at all times. Crowding the bear is extremely dangerous for both you and the bear because it can cause the bear to feel threatened, possibly leading to an attack. Most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs and their space. Getting closer than 50 yards means you can face fines or even arrest.
Don’t feed the bear: This is one of the most important safety tips. Feeding the bears cause them to lose their sense of fear of humans. This means their behavior can be unpredictable and lead to possible attacks. If you have food with you, be sure to keep it secured and never leave it unattended. Also, make sure to throw away any trash you have.
Don’t run from the bear: Although your first instinct when you see a bear may be to run from it, it’s important not to make any sudden moves. Running from it can trigger the bear’s instinct to chase you. The best thing to do is to move away slowly and sideways. This is an unthreatening movement to the bear and will allow you to keep an eye on it.
About Bears in the Smoky Mountains
There is an estimated number of 1,500 black bears in the Smoky Mountains, which is about 2 bears every square mile! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Bears can be found in all parts of the park, so keep an eye out when you visit! They can be 6 feet in length and up to 3 feet high at the shoulder. During the summer, an adult male weighs about 250 pounds, and adult females weigh a little over 100 pounds. However, by fall, bears can double their weight. Some bears that have been found have weighed more than 600 pounds! They can live 12–15 years or longer.
Wildlife Viewing in the Smoky Mountains
Black bears aren’t the only wildlife you can spot in the Smokies. Wildlife viewing is a popular activity for many people visiting the Smoky Mountains. If you plan on trying to see some wildlife when you visit, read our blog, “Where and When to Spot Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife.”