Black Bear in a field in the Smoky Mountains
January 30, 2023

One of the primary reasons why so many folks love visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is for the chance to see some of the park’s wildlife! While much of the park is covered in dense forest, there are several open areas where you can see white-tailed deer, black bears, elk, raccoons, turkeys, and many other animals! While it may be tempting to get up close for that perfect photo, you’ll want to keep safety in mind at all times- both for yourself and for the animal. Here are the top 3 safety tips about viewing the Smoky Mountain wildlife:

1. Maintain a Distance of at Least 50 Yards

two elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When you spot some interesting wildlife in the Smoky Mountains, be sure to maintain a distance of at least 50 yards at all times! While this is a safety precaution, there is also a law protecting wildlife contained in the Code of Federal Regulations that “willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces bear or elk is prohibited.” As an alternative, have some binoculars available in your car or backpack so you can get a closer look! However, if you’ve approached an animal so closely that it has changed its behavior, move away from the animal until you reach a distance at which it feels comfortable again.

2. Avoid Feeding the Wildlife

Another one of the Smoky Mountain wildlife viewing tips is to avoid feeding any of the animals in the park! When people feed wildlife, the animals learn to associate humans with food and eventually lose their fear of humans. As a result, they become more dangerous and may even injure a park visitor in search of food. If you’re stopping for a picnic during your afternoon hike, also practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle by bringing your food scraps with you and leaving only your footprints behind. Also, keep in mind that park rangers do issue citations for littering, feeding animals, and improper food storage.

3. Be Especially Careful Around Bears

black bear in Cades Cove

While many people hope to see the park’s iconic black bear during their visit, it is essential to remember that bears are wild animals that are dangerous and unpredictable! Therefore, you never want to approach a bear (remember the 50-yard rule!) or allow them to approach you. If a bear feels that you are too close, it may demand more space through behaviors such as making loud noises or swatting the ground. Rather than running, slowly back away from the bear to increase the distance and the bear will likely do the same. If a bear does approach you, act aggressively by shouting at the bear or use bear spray if it comes within 20 yards.

Now that you’re familiar with the safety tips about viewing Smoky Mountain wildlife, you’re prepared for a fun and safe day in the Smokies! If you’re wondering about the best ways to discover all of the park’s amazing animals, learn how to see your favorite Smoky Mountain wildlife in the national park!