Explore Nature in the National Park

Wildlife Viewing In The Smoky Mountains

black bear mom and cub

Wildlife viewing is one of the most popular activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is home to about 65 species of mammals, over 200 kinds of birds, more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians, and 67 native fish species. The Smoky Mountains have also been penned the “Salamander Capital of the World” because of the 30 salamander species that call the Smokies home.

One of the most popular animals that visitors come to see is the black bear. There are an estimated 1,500 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is about 2 bears per square mile. Common animals seen are white-tailed deer, chipmunks and squirrels, and birds like the wild turkey and red-tailed hawk.

Popular Spots for Wildlife Viewing

Because a majority of the national park is covered by dense forest, spotting animals can pose a challenge for visitors. However, there are open areas in the Smoky Mountains that offer great opportunities for seeing wildlife!

black bear eating green vegetation

Cades Cove - Cades Cove is arguably the best spot for wildlife viewing in the Smoky Mountains. The wide open valley makes it easier to see your favorite animals. White-tailed deer are commonly seen, as well as sightings of black bears, coyotes, turkey, groundhogs, raccoons and skunks.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail - Roaring Fork is a common area where visitors spot black bears. The key to seeing a black bear as you’re driving along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is to keep an eye on the trees. Bears love playing around in the trees, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some black bear cubs!

Cataloochee Valley - If you’re hoping to spot some elk in the Smoky Mountains, Cataloochee Valley is the place to go. Like Cades Cove, the open area makes it easier to spot the wildlife. This is a great spot to see elk, deer, turkey and other wildlife.

Best Times for Wildlife Viewing in the Smoky Mountains

Wildlife is more active when visitors are not. That means the best times to view wildlife are in the early mornings and evenings when traffic and congestion in the park aren’t as heavy. The animals are typically out and about the most at night, so if you get to the park early, you’ll have a good chance at spotting some!

Wildlife Viewing Tips

The behavior of all the animals in the Smoky Mountains is unpredictable. That means it’s important to keep safety in mind when viewing wildlife. Here are some of the most important wildlife viewing safety tips:

white tail deer in meadow
  • Stay at least 50 yards away at all times.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife.
  • Bring binoculars or spotting scopes.
  • Don’t disturb their natural habitat. (Leave vegetation in the forest alone, and don’t move rock formations in a creek.)

To learn more, check out our how-to guide for seeing your favorite Smoky Mountain wildlife.