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5 Things to Know About Black Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

November 5, 2021

The American black bear might as well be the mascot of the Smoky Mountains! With over 1,500 bears throughout the national park, they are by far one of the most popular animals in the area. With a population density of 2 bears per square mile, it’s highly likely you’ll run into one of these creatures while you’re exploring the Smokies. Here are 5 things to know about black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

1. Where to Find Black Bears

With such a high population and with the ability to live at any elevation, you can find a black bear just about anywhere in the Smokies. That being said, there are a few places where you’re more likely to see these animals in the park. One of the most popular places to see bears is in Cades Cove along the loop road. Many bears call the woods and valleys of the cove home, and if you’re lucky, you may get to see one, or even a family of them. One perk of Cades Cove is that you can see these bears all from the comfort and safety of your car!

2. Black Bear Hibernation

bear yawningAs the winter approaches, black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin preparing for hibernation. One of the ways they do this is by doubling their weight so they don’t have to look for food as much in the winter. Male black bears typically weigh about 250 pounds, while females are closer to 100 pounds. There have been bears found in the Smokies who have weighed in at over 600 pounds!

3. Maintain Distance From Bears

While these creatures may be cute, it is important to remember that black bears are unpredictable and should not be messed with. Attacks on humans are rare, but they do happen. In order to avoid an altercation with a black bear, you are legally required to stay at least 50 yards or 150 feet from bears in the Smokies. You are more than welcome to use binoculars or cameras in order to get a closer look at these animals, but you cannot approach them or interact with them. Please respect that the Smokies are their home and they need their space.

4. Black Bear Diet

bear eating berriesContrary to the idea that bears are scary, meat-eating animals, they actually have a diet mostly consisting of berries, plants and nuts. Less than 20% of a black bear’s diet is made up of protein from meat. The meat they do consume is mostly insects or animal remains. Rarely do you see a back bear hunting and chasing down its food. Unfortunately, because these bears scavenge for their meals, they often mistake trash for something to eat. This is why it is so important to keep your trash out of the reach of Smoky Mountain wildlife and not litter throughout the park.

5. Safety Tips

In the case that you do run into a bear while you’re out exploring the Smokies, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind. If you see a bear but it does not approach you, make sure to keep an eye on it and walk away in the opposite direction slowly. If the bear begins to approach you but shows no aggression, change your direction and stand your ground, shouting loudly if it gets closer. You can also use a stout stick or bear spray if the bear comes within 20 yards of you. In the unlikely case that a black bear attempts to attack you, do not play dead and fight back with whatever you have available to you.

Now that you know a little more about black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will know what to do if you see these creatures on your next trip to the Smokies! There is tons of other wildlife in the Smoky Mountains that you can find all throughout the park. Keep a lookout for white tailed deer, salamanders, bald eagles and more!

Do you have any more questions about the national park or want to plan your rafting trip for next season? Contact us today and let one of our team members assist you with whatever you need!