15 Tips for Bear Safety in the Smokies

Summer is one of the busiest seasons in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for both visitors and the park’s 1,500 black bear residents. Seeing a bear in the Smokies can be an amazing experience but it's important to remember these bear safety tips from the National Park Service.

Bear Safety

Rangers often remind visitors that though these animals are cute and fluffy, they can be aggressive and behave unpredictably - especially when there are cubs to protect. When it comes to dealing with bears in the Smokies, common sense is key. Even by taking these precautions, you could still encounter a bear in the Smokies. It’s essential to keep your distance.

More Bear Info

Picnic & Campground Precautions

  • 1. Don’t invite bears into your campsite. Do not store food in or near your tent.
  • 2. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can be very curious. Keep them away from your area by hanging food and other fragranced items (like toothpaste, bug repellent or soap) in trees and out of reach. Consider hanging items at least 10-feet up or investing in a bear-proof cooler or storage container.
  • 3. Don’t let the odors linger on you, especially overnight. If you’re camping out, consider changing into clean clothes before heading to bed. Even cooking odors on clothing can attract scavenging bears.
  • 4. Keep the area clean. Wash dishes, properly dispose of uneaten food and dispose of garbage in the indicated areas.

Trail & Backcountry Precautions

  • 5. Make your presence known. In many cases, a startled bear is an aggressive bear. Consider traveling with a group, as groups can be nosier and easier to detect.
  • 6. Bears are generally most active at dawn and dusk. Keep this fact in mind when planning your hikes and activities.
  • 7. There are thousands of miles of marked trails in the Great Smoky Mountains; stay on them and be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for tracks, scat, digs, and trees that bears have rubbed.
  • 8. Pets are not prohibited in the national park. Leave Fido at home.

If You Encounter A Bear

  • 9. Stay calm. Don’t make sudden movements that could startle or disturb the bear.
  • 10. Be sure to give animal plenty of room and continue its activities as if you weren’t there. Remember: if it changes its behavior, you’re too close.
  • 11. If you spot a bear and he doesn’t see you, keep it that way. Back away slowly and quietly without disturbing the creature.
  • 12. A standing bear isn’t necessarily showing signs of aggression. A bear might stand on its hind legs to get a better view and survey its surroundings.
  • 13. If a bear starts pursuing you, consider throwing an item – like a camera or purse – away from you. This could distract the animal and give you time to make a clean get away.
  • 14. Make yourself look bigger to the bear. If you're with a group, use your strength in numbers to increase your visual size; avoid looking like prey.
  • 15. Again, never feed or throw food to the bears. It’s a local saying: a fed bear is a dead bear.