Smoky Mountain Black Bears range
in every elevation of the park, but due to the bears
avoidance of human contact, you would hardly know the bears
are present. Many people come to the park for several years
without seeing any bears and are disappointed. You can increase
your chances of seeing a Black Bear in the park if you
know a little about bear behavior and look for bears accordingly.
Do be careful however.
It is helpful to know that Smoky Mountain
Black Bears often spend their days high in trees. During spring,
summer and fall, the bears like to stay in the trees so that
they can forage for food such as buds, acorns, bird eggs,
salamanders, and insects. In summer when bears are not eating
the bounty found in the treetops, they sprawl out on large
limbs to rest. Sometimes park bears of GSMNP like to lie underneath
trees. Many are especially fond of lying underneath conifer
trees. Unlike most Black Bears, the park bears of the Great
Smoky Mountains even hibernate high up in tree cavities.
For some reason, American Black Bears
seem to prefer the Tennessee side of GSMNP, and are perhaps
most easily sited in Cades Cove. This famous piece of the
Smokies is maintained in pastureland in an effort to preserve
some of the farming history of the park. The resulting openness
is not only incredibly beautiful, but it makes sighting wildlife,
including the elusive bear far easier. Morning and late afternoon
are often the best times for seeing wildlife in Cades Cove
as well as other places in the park. The reason--morning and
afternoon are the preferred mealtime and is therefore a good
time to see the animals moving about. Many a delighted tourist
has thrilled as they watched wildlife amble across the Cades
Cove loop road in search of food.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is also
a good location in which to look for bears. Bears are typically
spotted crossing the road or where acorns, nuts and berries
are abundantfifty-nine percent of park bears diet consists
of these things. You may also want to look for bears along
stream banks where there is thick undergrowth or where the
fishing is good. Great Smoky Mountain Black Bears are good
swimmers. On rare occasions they can even be seen swimming
across Lake Fontana!
commonly, Smoky Mountain Black bears are found in picnic grounds
where their keen sense of smell has led them to tidbits of
food left by tourists. These picnic ground marauders begin
their behavior at night when they can avoid human contact,
but as they enjoy the food laced with the scent of humans,
the offending bears lose one of their basic survival instinctsthe
fear of man. It is at this time that an individual park bear
begins coming to the picnic grounds during daylight hours.
Of course this makes contact with GSMNP visitors likely. While
amusing to tourists who want to see the bears wandering through,
the behavior places both tourist and bears in danger.
The object of looking for bears as you
hike, bike, drive or otherwise pass through the park should
be to view the bears from a safe distance. Keep this in mind
at all times and be sensible as you look for bears in the
park. If you are lucky enough to see a bear, you should observe
him only briefly, from a distance and move on. This wise behavior
will help the bears remain afraid of humans, wild and protected.
For your safety and the safety of the park bears, it is well
to remember that GSMNP bears are not usually dangerous when
wild and leery of humans, but are inherently dangerous if
Feeding the park bears in the Smoky Mountains
is extremely dangerous for you and especially for the people
who later come into contact with the bear you fed. Having
lost their fear of humans, the panhandler bears half-wild
personality makes them very unpredictable. Their behavior
causes property damage and injuries. For this reason, taming
the wild bears by feeding them is against park regulations.
Citations for feeding bears are issued each year by National
Park Rangers with penalties and fines as high as $5,000 and
six months in jail. These fines may seem high, but when you
consider the panhandler bear is a threat to himself as well
as to humans you can understand the fines are appropriate.
Panhandlers, also known as habituated
bears, live half as long as wild bears. They may be hit by
cars. They are
vulnerable to poachers in search of valuable bear gall bladders
used in Asian folk medicine. Also, Black bears that habitually
frequent trashcans are in danger of ingesting toxins in found
in garbage and plastic food packaging. Some bears die painful
deaths after eating garbage and trash saturated with food
The worse threat to a bear comes in the
unfortunate case that the bear injures a human. Park bears
that injure humans are quickly destroyed by the park service.
The best way to discourage an aggressive bear is by loud noises.
The park service suggests banging pots together or perhaps
using a whistle. Both things scare and confuse the bears.
By the way, the park service also suggests that you make a
speedy retreat but without running. Running indicates to the
bear that you are prey. Throwing rocks and sticks also runs
them away. Fortunately, there has only been one
fatal bear incident in the entire history of the GSMNP.
For more information see the Safety and Black Bears section
of this site or stop by the visitor center at the park.
As a visitor of The Great Smoky Mountain
National Park, it is your duty to protect the bears and other
tourists by helping to keep the park and surrounding areas
a wild environment for them. While in the park, you should
avoid leaving food unattended. If you must leave food it must
be hung from a tree to discourage the bears from trying to
get it. Also, when ever you leave a picnic or campground,
please be careful to remove all food scraps from your site
so that future visitors will be insured of a safe trip to
the Smokies. Make sure there is no food hiding in the fire
ring. Clean the tabletops and dispose of food scraps in the
bear-proof dumpsters provided by the park service.
If you are staying in a cabin or chalet
near the park please do not leave food of any type outside
for pets or wildlife such as birds or squirrels. Once a bear
learns to successfully seek food from people and civilization,
he becomes what is known as a habituated bear. A habituated
bear can not unlearn behavior that nets him food. Therefore
a habituated bear can never be persuaded to stay away from
people and particularly from their garbage cans and dumpsters,
bird feeders, and so forth. Such a black bear will simply
become more and more of a threat to itself and others as he
begins to destroy property and put people in danger. These
bears that frequent more developed areas are often killed
by cars, poachers and licensed hunters.
More Black Bear Info:
Page Where To Find Them Safety