The black bear is far and away the most popular animal in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains! For many visitors to the area, seeing a bear in the wild ranks near the top of their vacation bucket list. With around two bears per square mile in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are certainly quite a few chances to catch a glimpse of these beautiful critters. To help you make the most of your next vacation, Top Cabin Rentals has put together a guide to seeing black bears in the Smoky Mountains.

Best Places to See Bears in the Smoky Mountains

Attracting over 2 million people each year, Cades Cove is the most visited section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A big reason Cades Cove is so popular is its spectacular wildlife viewing. With its wide open spaces, this gorgeous valley is a great place to spot black bears.

As you drive around the Cades Cove Loop Road, be sure to scan the trees for bears. If someone else sees a bear along the road, you will likely find out, because traffic will come to a halt as people get out of their cars to get a good look. A bear sighting in Cades Cove can sometimes prompt a visit from a park ranger, who may tell you to keep driving. As always, be sure to follow any directions given to you by a ranger.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another great location for seeing black bears in the Smoky Mountains. Conveniently located minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg, this 5.5-mile, one-way loop road is frequented by bears in search of berries, acorns, and nuts.

Best Times to See Bears in the Smoky MountainsA black bear on the road in Cades Cove.

Black bears are typically out and about in the morning (6 – 10 a.m.) and late afternoon (3 – 7 p.m.). These are the most common times for bears to search for food.

Bears can be seen in the Smokies during every season except winter. During the cold weather months, bears hibernate inside of tree cavities. Although black bears are out of sight in the winter, the early fall is a wonderful time to see bears because they are out looking for lots of food in preparation for hibernation. Bears will often consume hundreds of walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts in a single day during the autumn!

In the spring and summer months, bears eat mostly plants and berries. Mama bears usually bring young cubs out of the den for the first time around May and June.

Safety Precautions for Seeing Bears in the Smoky Mountains

If you see a bear in the Smoky Mountains, always be sure to stay at least 150 feet away. We recommend using binoculars or a telephoto lens to watch bears from a safe distance. If a bear changes its behavior due to your presence, that is a sign that you are too close.

It is unlikely that a bear will approach you in the forest, but if this occurs, you should change your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, try to scare the bear away by shouting and making a lot of noise. Moving to higher ground, making yourself look as big as possible, and throwing rocks or other non-food objects are all good techniques for intimidating a bear. Do not run or turn away from the bear.

Feeding black bears in the Smoky Mountains or leaving food behind in the national park is strictly prohibited. It is important that bears do not become accustomed to receiving food from humans, as this can embolden them to approach people.

A black bear cub climbing a tree.Where to Stay in the Smokies

When you stay with Top Cabin Rentals, you will be near everything to see and do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 8 bedroom cabins, we are guaranteed to have the perfect accommodations for your vacation. To start planning your escape, browse our selection of cabins in the Smoky Mountains!