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Find out where to see bears in Gatlinburg for 2023.
If you’re looking for a bear sighting while in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, you’re in luck! There are several great places to see these majestic animals, both in the wild and in a wildlife encounter.
In this article, we’ll tell you about the best places to go.
For us it’s been far more exciting to see bears in the wild, although there is always some risk associated with this. Luckily there have not been many incidents of bear attacks on humans in the Smoky Mountains, and if you view bears from a distance then you are usually fine.
Table of Contents
How Many Bears Live in the Smoky Mountains?
The National Park estimates that there are about 1500 black bears living in the park, which roughly equates to a population density of 2 bears per square mile.
The Smokies are a wonderful place to see the American black bear because the park is one of the largest protected habitats where these wonderful creatures can live in the wild.
What Time Do Bears Come Out in Gatlinburg?
Bear sightings are most common in early morning and late evening when the bears are most active, so if you are wanting to catch a glimpse of a wild bear, the best times are as follows:
Morning from sunrise to around 9 am
Late afternoon about 2 hours before sunset
This is in the spring and summer months, and keep in mind that in winter the bears are hibernating so you won’t see any bears in mid-to late December through about March.
What are the Chances of Seeing a Bear in Gatlinburg?
The chances of seeing a bear in Gatlinburg are actually quite good!
We have seen bears on several occasions, both in Cades Cove and also while hiking in the National Park.
While we can’t guarantee that you will see a bear on your trip, we can say that your chances are pretty good if you go to the right place and time of day (especially early morning or late evening in the spring and summer months).
Best Places to See Bears in the Wild Near Gatlinburg
Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is home to lots of wildlife. It’s definitely worth a visit and you get to see amazing historic buildings as well. It’s one of the most popular spots for bear sightings.
One of the main reasons Cades Cove is such a wonderful area to view bears is because there are more areas that are out in the open. Most of the National Park is wooded, but Cades Cove is in a valley and has open spaces, where bears can’t hide as easily.
Like Cades Cove, this area of the park is more open so bears can be more easily seen. It’s in a quieter and more remote part of the park, so bears like to forage in this area.
There is also an elk herd in this part of the National Park, so you might get a bonus in the form of an elk sighting! If you’ve never seen an elk in person you’ll be amazed at how large these majestic creatures are.
Other Areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove is by no means the only place to see bears in the park. Our family’s favorite sighting was on the Laurel Falls Trail, where we saw a mother and two cubs further up the mountain (away from the trails), and that is not part of the Cades Cove Loop.
In general, anywhere in the park is a good place to see bears. However, we think your best chance is in Cades Cove or the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a wonderful scenic drive that is well-known for amazing wildlife viewing.
Other Places to See Bears in the Smoky Mountains
To ensure you see a bear when you are on your vacation, check out one of these great bear encounters where you can view live bears in a safe environment.
Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski resort in Gatlinburg, and they have a wildlife encounter where you can see black bears, river otters, birds of prey, and more.
If you want to be sure to see a black bear, this is one of the places to go. They have a family of black bears that includes Minnie, BJ, Holly and Chief, and they are part of this zoo encounter in all but the winter months, when they hibernate.
This is a really neat place to go and you can get tickets to their multiple attractions or just the wildlife encounter. Besides the bears, we really love the underwater viewing area for the adorable river otters.
Location: 1001 Parkway, Suite 2, Gatlinburg
Three Bears General Store
The bears at this unique store were rescued from a nearby hunting farm and have been cared for at the General Store for over 25 years. They have an amazing 5000 square foot habitat with a pond and waterfall, and each bear has an individual den.
Enjoy viewing the bears from the two level observation facility.
Location: 2861 Parkway, Pigeon Forge
Tips for Staying Safe While Viewing Bears in the Wild
First, please note that willfully approaching a black bear within 50 yards (150 feet) is illegal in the park and poses a great risk to your safety. Remember that these are wild animals, so keep a safe distance both for your safety and bear safety.
Use a telefoto lens, binoculars, or a spotting scope to view bears.
Do not use a camera flash or make loud noises.
Give bears plenty of room to escape. If you see a bear on the trail, back away slowly and give the bear plenty of room to move off the trail.
Never feed or touch a bear, no matter how tame it seems. A fed bear is a dead bear, because they will become reliant on humans for food and will eventually be killed. They like to scour picnic areas looking for human food and food scraps, but food should never be left out where bears might find it.
Keep your distance from cubs, as the mama bear will be close by and may see you as a threat to her young.
You can carry bear spray, but there are rules for using it, so check before carrying it into the park.
In general, just using common sense is the best way to stay safe while viewing bears. Use your best judgment, give them plenty of space, and don’t approach them.
Final Thoughts on Bear Sighting in the Smokies
If you’re looking for a great place to see bears in the Smoky Mountains, we recommend checking out Cades Cove or one of the other areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can also visit Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter, where you’ll have a guaranteed sighting, or Three Bears General Store in Pigeon Forge. Just use common sense and be respectful when viewing these beautiful animals!
We hope you have a great time on your trip and get to see some amazing wildlife!
However, we think your best chance is in
Bears are most active during early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer. Mating usually takes place in July. Both female and male bears may have more than one mate during the summer. Bears choose a denning site with the coming of cold weather.Where is the best place to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains? ›
Every year, thousands of vacationers see black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, mostly on the Tennessee side. According to numerous sources, the best place to see black bears is in Cades Cove, a few miles from Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee.What time of year are bears most active in Tennessee? ›
Black bears den for the winter months and typically emerge in late March or early April. When they emerge from dens, natural foods are scarce and often bears are lured by the smell of human-related foods. Nuisance reports peak in June and July for two reasons.What are the chances of seeing a bear in the Smoky Mountains? ›
Location of Bears in the Smokies
With approximately 1,500 bears in the park, the population density is roughly two bears per square mile! This means that bear sightings in the park are not uncommon, especially during the early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer when they are the most active.
Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
One of the top places to see Gatlinburg bears in the Smoky Mountains is at the Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter. This privately funded zoo provides a unique opportunity to see native wildlife up close in a safe environment, making it a great place to see a bear in Gatlinburg.
Spring is also one of the most dangerous seasons for bear attacks as bears are coming out of hibernation and they are hungry and can be grumpy, as well as with new cubs. While this sounds like a lethal situation, bear attacks are relatively rare.What month are bears most active? ›
If you want to give yourself the best chance to see an active bear, September and October are the best months. Bears are most active during this period, preparing for their lengthy hibernation. Some of the most popular activities for bears include snoozing, wandering, and fishing.How common are bears in Gatlinburg? ›
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, biologists estimate there are about 1,500 black bears. At this number, this creates a population density of two bears per square mile.Where are black bears in Gatlinburg? ›
Bears in the Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in wild, natural surroundings. Bears inhabit all elevations of the park. Though populations are variable, biologists estimate that roughly 1,500 bears live in the park.
Bears are usually active from dawn to dusk, but they may be seen any time of day or night. Bears in many places of high human use have become nocturnal in order to avoid people.What part of Tennessee has the most bears? ›
Tennessee: 5,500 to 6,000
Tennessee has 5,500 to 6,000 black bears. These bears primarily live in areas protected by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest.
Bear spray is legal for self-defense in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Although you probably won't need to use it, the peace of mind and security of knowing you have it on your hip so you can enjoy your hiking, camping or swimming is priceless.Where can I see bears in Pigeon Forge? ›
Being one of the parks most famous trails, Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop of pastureland. It is a way to preserve the farming history of the park. Not only will you very likely see black bears roaming around, but also many other wildlife. Due to the openness of Cades Cove, there are fantastic views.Are there bears at Cades Cove? ›
Cades Cove provides wildlife, like black bears, with clearings and pastures where they like to hang out. These areas make it easier for visitors to spot Cades Cove wildlife. Bears are more active after dawn and just before dusk, so that will be the best times to view them.Do you need bear spray hiking in Smoky Mountains? ›
Carry Bear Spray for Protection. Hikers visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are permitted to bring bear pepper spray into the park for the sole purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife. Therefore, consider bear spray as one of your essential hiking items when planning your trip!Why are there so many bears in Cades Cove? ›
Since Cades Cove features a stunning mountain backdrop and wide open valleys, many bears enjoy this beautiful space in the park.
Even if you don't see a bear on the trail, it's extremely likely that you will see one while you're driving around the area, especially if you take a drive along any of the motor nature trails or Newfound Gap Road. Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains.What part of Gatlinburg is closed due to bears? ›
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials temporarily closed the Gatlinburg Trail between Gatlinburg and Sugarlands Visitor Center, and also the Twin Creeks Trail between Gatlinburg and the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center.Which trails in Gatlinburg are closed due to bears? ›
The affected routes are the Gatlinburg Trail between Gatlinburg and Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Twin Creeks Trail between Gatlinburg and the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center. Both trails are due to close because of a “large concentration of black bears feeding on acorns.”
The Smoky Mountains are the most-visited national park in the United States. In general, 2.1 million people visit the national park every year, with many of those people seeing bears. There have only been six known attacks in those years.What color bear is more aggressive? ›
The grizzly bear is typically larger than the black bear and has a large muscle mass above its shoulders; a concave, rather than straight or convex, facial profile; and its behavior is much more aggressive.Where do most bear attacks occur? ›
According to the National Park Service, Alaska has had the most fatal bear attacks in the USA since 1900. According to statistics, about 29.6% of all fatal bear attacks in the USA have occurred in Alaska. This is likely because of the large population of grizzly and black bears found there.Are there bears in Pigeon Forge? ›
SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Two women were vacationing in Pigeon Forge this past weekend when they got an unexpected visit from a black bear.What months are bears less active? ›
For example, around Ely, fall food is scarce, so bears begin hibernating in September or October and remain in dens for 6 or 7 months until April. If supplemental food is provided to these bears in fall, they abandon it to begin hibernating on time, as they are genetically programmed to do.Are there grizzlies in Tennessee? ›
Tennessee Bear Types and Appearance
The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only species of bear living in Tennessee. Two other species of bears inhabit North America, the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are a subspecies of brown bear.
Black bears are the only bears native to the Great Smoky Mountains. Their bigger cousin the grizzly historically didn't roam far east of the Great Plains.Are there moose in Gatlinburg Tennessee? ›
It's important to note that moose are not found in the Smoky Mountains. Moose are found further north in places like Colorado, New England and Canada. So, if you see a large deer-like animal, it's probably an elk.Are there wolves in the Smoky Mountains? ›
The Eastern cottontail is common in many habitats and can often be seen in open areas, while the Appalachian cottontail is an uncommon and secretive forest dweller. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include bison and gray wolves.Where can I see bears in Old Forge NY? ›
A popular spot for campers -- and often bears
Bears are often seen at the Old Forge Camping Resort in Old Forge and other campsites throughout the area. An Old Forge camp official wrote on the Trip Advisor website: "We have information in our gazette as to how to avoid an unpleasant encounter.
Black bears spend most of the daylight doing very little, taking several short naps during this period. Then they sleep for much of the night, except for a few hours around sunset when looking for food. However, these patterns can also vary depending on food availability and seasonal changes.What should you do if you encounter a black bear? ›
- Keep a safe distance. Back away slowly.
- Make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving arms.
- Make noise by yelling, using noisemakers, or whistles.
- DO NOT run. Do not make eye contact. Let the bear leave the area on its own.
Avoid being out at dusk, night or dawn.
Although bear encounters can happen at any time of day, bears are most active at dusk, night and dawn.
Behavior: Most bears become active a half-hour before sunrise, take a nap or two during the day, and bed down for the night an hour or two after sunset. Some bears are active mainly at night to avoid people or other bears. Black bears are considered highly efficient hibernators.What time of day to hike to avoid bears? ›
If you see a bear before it sees you, slowly and calmly back away from the area and keep an eye on the bear. Never approach a bear that doesn't see you—it could lead to surprising the bear, which can cause the bear to react. Avoid hiking at dawn, dusk, and at night.How early should I get to Cades Cove? ›
Early in the morning. You can expect less traffic and to see more wildlife like deer and bears. If you make it to Cades Cove at sunrise you can capture some great pictures! In the middle of the day.How rare is a bear encounter? ›
Bear attacks are rare. In fact, according to the National Park Service, the chance of being attacked by a bear is just 0.02% of 1 in 2.1 million.What parks have the most bears? ›
Katmai National Park (Alaska)
The majority of the bears in North America live in Alaska. The highest concentration of grizzly bears in the United States is in Katmai National Park. The park was established in 1918 to protect the brown bears that frequent the area, and today it's home to an estimated 2,000 grizzlies.
There haven't been any cougars in Tennessee since the early 1900s. Similar to Tennessee's wild elk and buffalo, the cougar was extirpated from the state around the early 1900s due to overhunting and habitat loss.Where are grizzly bears in Tennessee? ›
RANGE: Grizzly bears are found today in Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and possibly southern Colorado, as well as in western Canada. Historically they ranged from Alaska to Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River, but their numbers were vastly reduced by western expansion.
The National Park Service does not recommend that you whistle, use a whistle or scream—these noises can sound like an animal in pain, which may actually attract a bear. Most bells sold as “bear bells” are not loud enough to be useful until the bear is already very close.What to do if you see a bear and don t have bear spray? ›
Stay face down, legs spread, and cover your neck with clasped hands. Let the bear unleash its fury on your backpack. Stay still, and don't move until it's done. Black bears only attack to kill, so playing dead with one of those will be facilitated by the fact that you will, in fact, be dead soon enough.Should everyone in your party carry bear spray? ›
It is strongly recommended that every person recreating, camping, fishing, or hunting in bear country carry at least one cannister of bear spray.Where are the most bear sightings in Gatlinburg? ›
Cades Cove is home to abundant wildlife. Drive the 11-mile loop road but be sure to stop and stroll into the woods for the best chances of seeing bears. This dramatic mountain pass is known for frequent bear sightings. The scenic drive lets you spot bears from the comfort of your car.What is the best time of day to see bears? ›
Early morning and late afternoon sightings are more likely, since that is when they forage for food. Black bears avoid activity during the heat of summer days, preferring to lounge in the shade or rest high up in a tree. Bears are great climbers and often hang out in trees.Where can I find the most bears? ›
North America is home to about 55,000 brown bears; wherein Western Canada has roughly 25,000 bears, while the United States has about 30,000. Most of the U.S. brown bears live in Alaska with a small population of about 1,500 in the lower 48 states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington.Are there a lot of bears at Cades Cove? ›
Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the park; this is the largest population ever recorded in the Smokies. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile.Are there cougars in Cades Cove? ›
Cougars prey on a variety of species, notably deer but will also pursue rabbit, groundhog, turkey, and other animals. Although some have wandered outside park boundaries, the best place to see them Is in Cades Cove.What time of day are you likely to see a bear? ›
Although bear encounters can happen at any time of day, bears are most active at dusk, night and dawn.What time of day do bears travel? ›
Bears are usually active from dawn to dusk, but they may be seen any time of day or night. Bears in many places of high human use have become nocturnal in order to avoid people.
The Little River Road is an excellent place to see bears as the road runs parallel to the Little River for 18 miles, traveling between the Cades Cove park entrance in Townsend to the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg.Does Gatlinburg have moose? ›
It's important to note that moose are not found in the Smoky Mountains. Moose are found further north in places like Colorado, New England and Canada. So, if you see a large deer-like animal, it's probably an elk.Are there wolves in Gatlinburg TN? ›
Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include bison and gray wolves.Are there bears near Pigeon Forge TN? ›
SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Two women were vacationing in Pigeon Forge this past weekend when they got an unexpected visit from a black bear.