black bear
June 5, 2018

One of the many great reasons the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts a record-breaking number of visitors each year is the opportunity to see wildlife. The Smoky Mountains is full of a variety of wildlife, from black bears, to white-tailed deer, to salamanders. If you are hoping for the chance to spot some animals on your visit to the park, follow our guide on how to see your favorite Smoky Mountain wildlife:


elk in cataloochee valley

Because the Smoky Mountains are covered by a dense forest, it can be challenging at times to see wildlife. That’s why the best spots for wildlife viewing are in open areas like Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove offers great opportunities to spot white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons and wild turkeys! When you travel along this 11-mile, one-way loop road, you can search for the wildlife from the comfort of your car. Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people travel along the Cades Cove Loop Road. You also have the chance to see skunks, coyotes and foxes!

Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is another popular place to spot your favorite wildlife! One of the most popular reasons visitors go to Cataloochee Valley is to see the elk! In 2001, elk were released into Cataloochee Valley in an effort to reintroduce them to the park. You have the chance to see the herd regularly in the fields of the valley. But elk isn’t the only animal you’ll see. You might spot deer, turkey and more!


white tailed deer

The best time to see all of the wildlife is in the early morning or late evening hours. If you want to spot the white-tailed deer, they are more likely to come out when the weather is cooler. They are also known to graze right after a rainy or foggy afternoon, so that’s your best bet in spotting them. As for black bears, they prefer the cooler and less crowded times as well. The best time to see them is from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. Elk are the same way, but wild turkeys are rarely seen in the evening because they tend to roost in the trees. So, if you want the best chance to see the amazing wildlife, plan to visit in the morning or the evening.

Safety Tips

When viewing wildlife, it’s important to keep safety in mind. We’ve got a few tips for you to follow to keep both you and the Smoky Mountain wildlife safe:

Stay back.

The closer you are to the animals, the more dangerous it becomes for everyone. Remember that you are in the animals’ home, and the best thing to do is to let them be in their natural habitat. Law requires that you stay 50 yards away from wildlife at all times. This is especially important to keep in mind when you see black bears and elk. The goal is to have as little human interaction with the wildlife as possible, for both you and the animals’ safety.

Don’t feed the wildlife.

Do not feed any of the wildlife in the national park. Wild animals tend to ignore humans unless they are food conditioned. If you offer food to the bear or elk, you are training them to lose their fear of humans and associate humans with food. This makes their behavior unpredictable. If you have food with you, make sure to keep it secured and never leave it unattended.

wildlife viewingBring binoculars or spotting scopes

If you want to see the animals up close, bring binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras with telephoto lenses. Do not move closer to the animal just to get a better picture. If you see any change in the animal’s behavior, it means you got too close, and you should move away slowly until the animal resumes whatever it was doing before you got too close.

Now that you know where and when to see your favorite Smoky Mountain wildlife, plan your visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park today!