Wondering where to see bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Of all of the beautiful wildlife of the Smoky Mountains, the American Black Bear ( Ursus americanus ) is one of the largest and most impressive species you can see in the national park.
Better yet, bears are plentiful in the Smokies and live in all elevations of the park. It is estimated that around 1,500 bears live inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since the national park is 800 sq. miles in size, this means bears have a population density of nearly 2 bears per square mile.
As one of the largest nature preserves in the Eastern US, the GSMNP is one of the best places to see black bears in this part of the country.
To view these amazing animals in the Smokies, check out the following:
Why is Cades Cove a hot spot for black bears? This lush valley is home to many mast-producing trees. This means trees that grow acorns and walnuts are a food source for bears. Bears also love to snack on blueberry and blackberry bushes.
Cades Cove is also a wide and large valley not overgrown with trees. Therefore, this area of the Great Smoky Mountains is the ideal place to see wildlife that would otherwise keep a low-profile in the forest.
When you drive the 11-mile Cades Cove loop from the safety, comfort and convenience of your car, you get a chance bears safely and without harming them as well. It’s not unusual to find yourself stuck in a “bear jam caused by vehicles slowing down to view any of the wildlife in Cades Cove.
Bears are most often seen on the western end of the loop road. This area is at the far end of the cove away from the Cades Cove Campground. Hiking trails in Cades Cove like the Rich Mountain Loop Trail and Gregory Ridge Trail are good places to see bears as well.
This scenic, 5.5 mile-long, one-way, loop-road in the national park begins and ends in Gatlinburg. It is famous for its beautiful hiking trails, rushing streams, historic homesteads, and nice waterfalls, including the trail head Rainbow Falls.
This loop road is also a great place to spot bears! Simply go for a drive on the Roaring Fork during the morning or evening hours and you might just catch a glimpse of a black bear crossing the road.
By driving the Newfound Gap road, you may get a chance to see a bear. Be watching when you drive next to a river or stream because bears are drawn to these areas as a place to find food.
Additionally, this scenic, 33-mile route that passes through high elevation areas of the national park offers beautiful mountain overlooks to enjoy as well.
Little River Road
On the Little River Road you’ll have a chance to see wildlife like deer, turkey, and bears by the roadside. Better yet, this route connects Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, so you can keep an eye out for bears on your way to this beautiful part of the Smokies.
Cataloochee Valley is an old community in a remote section of the park, so it is a quiet place for bears to forage. It is a nice wide area without much tree cover, so it’s easier to spot animals like bear and deer.
Additionally, Cataloochee is home to a wild elk herd! One of the most popular times to see elk is during the fall “rut” when bull elk make “bugling” calls and compete for mates.
When is the best time of day to see black bears?
Black bears are most active in the early morning hours ( 5 am – 9 am ) and evening hours ( 5 pm – 8 pm ) when they forage for food in the cooler times of the day.
Bears typically do their best to avoid humans and so they spend much of their day in heavily forested areas or snoozing in their den, typically 20 feet off the ground in a hollowed out section of a large tree.
As a result, the best time to see black bears are when they are on the move searching for food.
If you are staying in our Bearfoot Adventure Cabin, bear activity is common.
When is the best time of year to see black bears?
Summer and fall are when black bears are most active in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Food sources like tree nuts and berries are plentiful.
During these busy seasons, black bears are preparing for hibernation in the winter and early spring when food sources are scarce.
Black blears are less likely to be seen during the cooler times of year. They are less active and spend the majority of time in their dens.
By late spring, bears begin to be more active as temperatures warm and food becomes more available. When the mamas come out of their dens, they bring their babies with them.
What To Do If You See A Bear While Hiking?
Normally, black bears do their best to avoid humans, so it is unlikely you’ll run into one in the backcountry.
However, some areas increase your chances of encountering a bear. Black bears tend to congregate around food sources like the berry patches at Spence Field or Mt. LeConte. They also tend to search for food in overgrown areas by streams and rivers where they can find berries, nuts, roots, insects, and fish.
If you do see a bear, give it plenty of space and do not approach it.
Black Bear Safety
Black bears are usually very shy and do their best to avoid human contact. However, bears are wild animals and are unpredictable.
Before visiting the park, we recommend reviewing the park service’s guide to bear safety.
This useful guide has great tips on how to keep yourself safe if you do see a bear.
Final Thoughts & Where to Stay
Plan a trip to the Smoky Mountains so you can see the beautiful wildlife this region offers! Be sure to check out our excellent cabins when planning your vacation at My Bearfoot Cabins!
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, Owners