The most visited national park in the U.S. is located right here in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park—home to more than 800 miles of hiking trails and over 100 different species of trees—also features (according to the National Park Service website) some 65 species of mammals, more than 200 varieties of birds, 67 varieties of native fish, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians!
Obviously, we can’t list all the animals in the national park in this one short blog post, but we can give you the highlights and let you know where to go, what to expect, and what to look forward to during your next trip to Pigeon Forge. This one’s all about the wildlife, so let’s get started with one, two, three …. go!
Although this definitely isn’t the only place to view wildlife in the park, Cades Cove is consistently listed as one of the best! A broad valley with lush greenery surrounded by the peaks of the Smokies, Cades Cove is a prime location for large herds of animals to roam. One of the most common animals spotted is the white-tailed deer, but Cades Cove also provides opportunities for viewing coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoons, skunks, and the symbol of the Smokies, the American black bear.
Smoky Mountain Species
All About that Trout
Did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States? The park has almost 3,000 miles of streams total, and nearly 20 percent of these streams support trout populations. Did you also know that fishing is permitted year-round in ALL the streams found in the park? You do need to possess a valid fishing license or permit from Tennessee or North Carolina, but other than that, you are free to fish in all the top fishing locales during your Pigeon Forge getaway.
Where Salamanders Rule the World!
Weird but true: this national park has been dubbed the “Salamander Capital of the World.” Something about the climate and geological nature of the Smokies has spurred the development of 30 salamander species—one of the most diverse communities of salamanders in the world!
If you keep up with the Great Smoky Mountains Association—a non-profit organization that supports the preservation of the park—they offer guided tours and wildlife experiences called “Branch Out Events” throughout the summer, including a recent “Sensational Salamanders” program in July. Other upcoming events you still have time to sign up for include a guided hike in August to Huskey Branch Falls and a Cataloochee Backpacking Trip in September. See the GSMA website for more details.
Must-Try Wildlife Experiences
Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament
In the spring, don’t miss the largest trout tournament in the Smokies: the annual Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament. This contest is open to adults and children, locals and visitors alike. More than 20 miles of streams will be stocked with 10,000 trout for this 2-day event, and over $10,000 in cash prizes will be given away in multiple categories! The 2017 spring tournament just finished up, but you can start getting ready for the fall festival on October 7 and 8!
Wilderness Wildlife Week
The dates for Wilderness Wildlife Week are already on the calendar for 2017. Plan for a Pigeon Forge visit the second week of May (9–13, 2017) so you don’t miss this exciting annual event! With guided hikes into the mountains, a variety of programs for all ages, and fascinating workshops about the flora and fauna of the Smokies, this FREE Pigeon Forge festival is one of the best ways to learn about the Smoky Mountains from the experts who know them best.
Synchronous Fireflies at Elkmont
We’ve saved one of the most unique wildlife experiences in the Smokies for last. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park synchronous fireflies event is one of the most popular reasons to visit Pigeon Forge each year. This 2-week period (usually occurring in late May to mid-June) is when the fireflies at Elkmont synchronize their light patterns for a dazzling mating display. Only a few firefly species in the world actually do this, so thousands of guests flock to Pigeon Forge every year to witness this exciting event. Stay tuned to the National Park Service website so you’ll know when to plan your visit to see the fireflies in 2017!
Important Reminder: Leave No Trace
This is just a taste of what’s in store when it comes to wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains. You can also see elk in the park if you visit the Cataloochee, a variety of birds including the reintroduced Peregrine falcon, and even endangered species like the northern flying squirrel. As always, let’s do our part to keep these animals safe in their natural habitat. You’re invited to view them, ooh and ahh, and take plenty of pictures. But kindly “leave no trace” as you explore the variety of wildlife in the national park!
Take only pictures, leave only footprints.