My mother-in-law’s absolute favorite thing to do in the Smoky Mountains is looking out for black bears. She flips when she spots a black bear along a scenic drive through Cades Cove, along a hike – from a distance – in the Great smoky Mountains National Park, while driving along the beautiful mountain roads in the Smoky Mountains, or while sipping her hot chocolate from a rocking chair at her Pigeon Forge, TN cabin. She also loves spotting the other wildlife – white-tailed deer, river otters, turkeys, salamanders, and birds – but black bears are her favorite.
The American black bear is the symbol of the Smokies, so it’s a special moment when you spot one! Of course, with that excitement comes responsibility to stay safe and keep the wild animals who call this place home safe as well. Read on for some great black bear viewing spots and some tips to help keep you safe.
Safety Tips: What to do if you see a black bear
Safety is the first priority when you’re talking about wildlife. Remember that, while totally adorable, black bears are wild animals. Consider these safety tips before coming to the Smokies:
- NEVER approach a black bear. This is their home; keep your distance.
- Stay at least 150 feet back from black bears.
- Always listen to rangers.
- Never feed black bears.
- If a bear changes behavior, you are too close.
- If a bear begins following you, change direction. If a bear pursues you, make yourself seem large and loud.
- Don’t play dead!
Best Black Bear Viewing
It’s estimated there are about 1,500 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and bears are often spotted exploring around cabins or even in downtown Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Birthing time for the American black bear is in January, so spring is when they’re the most active and easily spotted! Here are some black bear viewing tips to help you have the best chance of seeing these awesome creatures!
- Keep your eye on patches of trees, including the treetops and the ground. Some cubs may be playfully climbing with mothers just below!
- Don’t forget your binoculars!
- The early bird gets the…black bear. Start early, because the best viewing is when it’s still cool, between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.
- Late afternoons/early evenings are also good times to view, after 3 p.m. and before around 7 p.m.
- Take a drive around Cades Cove. This is where I’ve personally seen the most!
- Watch for bears around your cabin, but be sure to stay inside and keep your distance as you watch.
- Take a drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and keep your eyes peeled as you go!
- Follow the Little River Road, a popular spot for black bears to fish in the Little River.
Black Bear Viewing at Your Pigeon Forge, TN Cabin
Even when you’re hanging out at the cabin, you can watch for black bears. The deck is a great spot to set up, where you can enjoy your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate while rocking in the rocking chairs and watching for wildlife. Just be sure not to leave out trash or try to entice bears to come along! That can be very dangerous for you and the bears.
And bonus – our Pigeon Forge, TN Cabins come packed with amenities, from private indoor pools, rec rooms with games, and theater rooms to fully equipped kitchens, relaxing hot tubs, and firepits. And conveniences include Wi-Fi, washer/dryers, and more, so you’ll feel right at home!
Wildlife-Inspired Attractions in the Smokies
- Parrot Mountain & Garden of Eden
- RainForest Adventures Discovery Zoo
- Goats on the Roof
- Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa
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