black bear in Cades Cove
April 29, 2023

When it comes to wildlife viewing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the thing that visitors usually want to see the most is the black bear! After all, these animated animals are an iconic symbol of the Smokies and you’ll find them on t-shirts, magnets, and practically everything else at the souvenir shops throughout Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg! While you can safely view bears from a distance of at least 50 yards, you may be wondering how to react if you stumble upon one while hiking! Here are 3 things to do if you encounter any black bears in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Increase Your Distance by Slowly Backing Away

If you come across a black bear, you might think that it would be startled and immediately run away in fear. However, since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the United States, bears have become quite accustomed to seeing humans! If the bear is already at a distance, walking by or feeding, it may just continue its natural behavior and no action is required on your part. You are too close if your presence causes the bear to change its behavior, such as altering its direction of travel. This close proximity can also promote aggressive behavior from the bear as it demands more space, and it may make loud noises, swat the ground or even run toward you. The key is to slowly back away to increase the distance between you and the bear, and the bear will likely do the same.

2. Stand Your Ground and Act Aggressively if Followed by a Bear

black bear in the smoky mountains

Another thing to do if you encounter black bears in the Smoky Mountains is to stand your ground and act aggressively if followed by a bear. While it may be tempting to run, this can trigger a chase response and bears can run up to 30 miles per hour! The best things to do in this case are to intimidate the bear by talking loudly, shouting at the bear, or making yourself appear as large as possible. If you’re hiking with some companions, everyone should act together as a group to intimidate the bear. You can also try throwing rocks and other non-food objects at the bear, or discharging bear spray if it comes within 20 yards of you.

3. Separate Yourself From Food in the Unlikely Event of Being Physically Attacked

Bear attacks in the Smoky Mountains are very rare, so it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever face the scenario of being physically attacked by a bear. If you do happen to encounter a particularly aggressive bear that is interested in your food and you are physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and slowly back away. In the case that there is no food, the bear may consider you as prey and you should fight back with any available object!

Although black bears in the Smoky Mountains are wild, remember that you can safely view these amazing animals as long as you maintain a distance of at least 50 yards at all times. To increase your odds of spotting a bear in the National Park, check out our top 4 places to see bears in the Smoky Mountains!