All About the Bears in the Smoky Mountains

Black bears are some of the Smoky Mountains' favorite residents. These beautiful creatures inhabit all areas of the park, and you will often see them in more trafficked areas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few natural environments left for black bears to live in the wild in the Eastern United States. To many, the black bear is synonymous with the wilderness that is the national park.

WARNING: Willfully approaching a black bear within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals. [NPS]

Black Bears

Bears are beautiful and intriguing creatures and seeing one is an unforgettable experience. Some of the best places to see bears are along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the Little River Auto Tour and the 11-mile loop around Cades Cove. However, they can also be dangerous if they are threatened and they decide to attack, so make sure that you give them plenty of space and do not approach them.

Where To See Bears
Bears In The Smoky Mountains

Enjoy From A Distance

Black bears are typically solitary animals who forage alone, except for mothers with their cubs, and there are many places that you might see a bear in the Smoky Mountains. Remember that bears are wild animals and their behavior can be unpredictable. Treat then with extreme caution and do not approach them. Avoid leaving food out as this will attract bears and dispose of all food scraps and garbage in a bear proof garbage container. And definitely do not feed the bears!

What To Do If You See A Bear

Keep your distance. A good guideline is that if your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (it begins to watch you, stops feeding, changes direction), then you are too close. If the bear starts to move toward you or make noise, slowly back away. Increase the distance between yourself and the bear, & it will likely do the same.

Bear Safety
Bears In The Smoky Mountains

Will Black Bears Attack?

Attacks on humans by black bear are very rare, but they do occur. Black bears will only attack humans if they feel threatened or if they are protecting their cubs. If the bear gets closer, you can shout at it and act aggressively to intimidate it. If you have other people with you, it is best to act as a group and make yourselves look as large as possible. Throw rocks and move to higher ground to appear larger. Don't turn and run away. Do not play dead and if the bear attacks try to fight back with any available object.

Bears In The Smoky Mountains

Do Not Feed The Bears

The black bear has an acute sense of smell, which will lead it to its natural diet of nuts and berries, but a bear can also be tempted by human food and garbage left out in the open or offered from a human. Do not feed the bears. These reasons cause the National Park Rangers to issue fines up to $5000 for feeding bears and not storing your food correctly.

NPS Info on Black Bears

Feeding the bears will change their natural wild behavior, and they will lose their fear of humans. This creates panhandler or nuisance bears which are extremely unpredictable and dangerous. The situation of a panhandler bear is at best, them performing tricks to obtain food; at worst (and most likely) they can cause property damage or hurt people.

Feeding bears can also cause normal, wild, healthy bears to turn into beggars, instead of searching for their natural food. Studies have shown that these bears never live as long as wild bears. Beggar bears can die from eating plastic food packages, are easy targets for poachers, and many get hit by cars.

Appalachian Bear Rescue

The Appalachian Bear Rescue is a center designed to help black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains. Itís located in Townsend, Tennessee and it takes in orphaned and injured young black bears and takes care of them until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Their goal is to get the bears healthy as quickly as possible and then release them, so that the bears do not get habituated to living around humans, which could cause problems for them in the future.

Fascinating Bear Facts

  • Bear Population

    The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the USA where black bears live in the wild in their natural habit. In 2006, biologists estimated that the bear population in the national park was around 1,500, which means there is an average of two bears every square mile.

  • Bear Size & Color

    Black bears in the Smokies are almost always black, but in other areas of the country they can be cinnamon colored or brown. They can grow to six feet long and three feet tall, at the shoulders. A male black bear will weigh approximately 250 pounds during the summer months and the smaller females weigh a little over 100. But the bears will double their weight by fall in preparation of the cold winter. There are records of black bears weighing up to 600 pounds in the national park.

  • Bear Behavior

    Black bears will most likely be seen early morning or late evening in the Spring and Summer seasons. July is mating season for black bears and both the male and females may take more than one mate during this time.

  • Bear Diet & Lifespan

    The black bear typically eats bees, moths, termites, berries, honey, fruit, acorns and. They will also scavenge for carrion. If kept to their natural diet, which consists 85% of berries and nuts, a wild black bear can live between 12-15 years. But if they have access to human food and garbage, they are expected to live only half that time.

  • Bear Hibernation

    When winter approaches, bears will choose a den, usually a stump or hollowed tree, high above the ground. During their winter sleep, which is not a true hibernation, one to four cubs will be born, most often in the month of January. The cubs weigh eight ounces at birth and will remain with the mother for eighteen months.

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