two deer in the smoky mountains during winter
December 31, 2018

The winter season is one of the best times of the year to view wildlife in the Smokies! The trees have shed their leaves so that you can see deeper into the depths of the forest where animals may be lurking. Also, wildlife such as elk and deer are active for longer periods during the daylight hours due to the colder temperatures. If you are planning a winter vacation to the Smokies, here is everything you need to know about seeing animals in the Smoky Mountains during the winter:

1. Best Places to See Deer

While you can see white-tailed deer all year long within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the sight of deer against the backdrop of a snowy winter scene is truly a breathtaking sight to behold! The best place to see these beautiful animals in the Smoky Mountains is in the Cades Cove section of the park. You can explore this area by taking the Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove. Some people have counted more than 100 deer as they experienced the leisurely drive along the loop! There are plenty of places to pull over where you can stop to enjoy the scenery and take some photographs. Other great places to spot deer include the Elkmont, Sugarlands and Deep Creek areas of the park.

2. Where to Find the Bears

bear in the smoky mountains

One of the animals in the Smoky Mountains that many folks hope to see is the black bear. However, most bears are in their winter dens from mid-December to mid-March so they can be difficult to spot during the winter season. These dens are usually situated in shallow caves beneath boulders or high above the ground in cavities within old growth trees. Contrary to popular belief, the black bears in the Smokies do not truly hibernate in the winter, but they do sleep for longer periods than in the summer. Therefore, you still might see a bear as they stir from their dens and wander around. This is more likely during those winter days with more moderate temperatures, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled at all times!

3. Other Wildlife Spotting Opportunities

You can also spot many other types of animals in the Smoky Mountains during the winter, including elk. The male elk normally keep their impressive antlers at least through February, so the winter is a great time to see these animals. The best place to see elk in the national park is the Cataloochee Valley, which is surrounded by magnificent 6,000 foot mountain peaks! Another great place to spot some elk is along Newfound Gap Road between the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Smokemont Campground. There are many other animals that you might spot during the winter, including otters, bobcats, gray fox, red fox, red squirrel and coyote. Of course, you will always find lots of birds throughout the year in the park!

Now that you know how to see animals in the Smoky Mountains during the winter season, we are sure that you will have success spotting some wildlife! You can see animals all year long in the Smokies, so learn more about how to see your favorite Smoky Mountain wildlife in the national park!