Everybody needs a vacation every once in awhile. It’s estimated that 49.6 million Americans travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
If people travel that much during the summer, imagine how many miles must occur throughout the year!
Some people like to lounge on sandy beaches during their time off. Others want to explore exotic locations and big cities for their vacations.
You can see the appeal of both, but your dream vacation involves the wilderness and beautiful birds.
You love to bird watch, and you’re looking forward to your next trip.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee isn’t a place that frequently makes headlines, but it’s a location that every bird lover should check out.
A unique environment
There are plenty of great areas to explore, but Gatlinburg is a must see for anybody that loves to bird watch.
Both amateur bird watchers and long time experts will have plenty to do if they visit this modest mountain town.
Gatlinburg is located right on the border of the famous Great Smoky Mountains. Its location next to the mountain range makes it the ideal bird watching destination.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, but the Great Smoky Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The mountains get their name from the thick nearly year-round fog that surrounds them. This isn’t your usual mountain range, the Great Smoky Mountains are an ecological wonder.
The mountains are full of thick forests along with steep mountainsides and peaks. Between all of this, you’ll find sprawling valleys that are lined with beautiful and clear streams.
The lower parts of the mountain have cove hardwood and southern hardwood forests. These forests are full over 100 species of trees.
The trees themselves are a popular attraction. Tourists will come to see plants bloom and in the spring and the leaves change in the autumn.
There are plenty of animals that call the mountains home, but there’s no species more abundant in the area than birds.
The Birds of Gatlinburg
The different species of trees attract a wide variety of birds, which makes Gatlinburg a popular destination for bird watchers and ornithologists alike.
There are so many different kinds of habitats and microclimates in the Great Smoky Mountains, that’s why you can find over 240 species of birds in the area.
The are high peaks to soar around, warm lowlands, and plenty of trees to nest in. The National Park Service has a lot of information on the kinds of birds you can find in Gatlinburg.
Some birds use the Great Smoky Mountains as a rest stop during their migration. They’ll rest and forage during the fall and spring.
There are around 60 species of birds that call the mountains and the surrounding environment their home throughout the year.
Around 120 species come to the park to breed, including over 50 kinds of birds from the neotropics.
What to Bring
If you’re new or a beginner to bird watching, you’re going to want to make sure to bring the essentials. Here’s what we recommend you bring in your backpack on an early morning walk:
- Field Guide
- A camera
- Plenty of water
Bonus: A birding app for after your hike. We like Merlin’s Bird ID. With so many search options and even bird calls built in, this app is a must-have for learning to ID any bird you might see in the Smoky Mountains.
Plan your trip
The best way to go bird watching in Gatlinburg is to stick to the hiking trails. You’ll be able to explore the mountains and see the various species that call it home.
There are plenty of trails to choose from, you just have to know which ones are the best for bird watching.
If you’re ready to hike and see some beautiful birds, try a few of these trails.
This may sound like a strange place to see birds, but the word “cave” is a misnomer in this case.
The “cave” is more of a concave bluff that’s about 80 feet high. The views on the way to this natural wonder are breathtaking.
When you’re at the mouth of the cave you see plenty of treetops. You’ll catch plenty of birds flying throughout the skies, or can see a few nesting in trees.
It isn’t a very long hike, about 4.4 miles roundtrip. It’s not very intense, so it can be enjoyed by bird watchers and hikers of all skill levels.
When you’re looking through the trees you could see a dark-eyed Junco. They like to nest in the area. You may also be able to catch some peregrine falcons – they’re known to nest just off trail nearby!
This is a short trail that’s popular with birdwatchers. If you happen to go during the spring you’ll see plenty of flowers and plants in bloom which will attract a variety of bird species.
You’ll see plenty of birds nesting in the trees and flying near the flowers.
This gentle trail is only 2.6 miles roundtrip and can be done relatively quickly.
Like the name implies, you’ll also have the benefit of seeing a beautiful waterfall during your hike.
If you come across a blackberry thicket, be on the lookout for chestnut-sided warblers. Warblers love to eat blackberries, and the surrounding areas may have a few thickets.
Huskey Gap Trail
This trail is known to birdwatchers as one of the best places to see birds in the area. The trail is covered with a variety of trees and shrubs, a lot of birds call the trail home.
There’s a lot to see along this trail. You’ll see an old stone wall from an old homestead in the area, and plenty of hardwood trees.
Look out for plenty of American goldfinches, sparrows, and wrens when you’re on this trail.
Mount LeConte is the main attraction when it comes to bird watching in Gatlinburg. It’s a long trail that can be accessed at various points, but since it’s home to so many different bird species it’s worth visiting.
You can get to Mount LeConte by Alum Cave (as mentioned before), Bullhead Trail, Rainbow Falls, or the Trillium Gap. They’re all about 11-14 miles in length and will take a full day to do round trip.
Regardless of which trail you choose, you’ll see a lot of different birds along the way.
You could spot a few woodpeckers during your hike. Both the red-bellied woodpecker and the downy/hairy woodpecker call Mount LeConte home.
It’s also a great place to see different warblers. Watchers have reported seeing the yellow-throated warbler and the black-throated green warbler during their hikes.
Plan Your Trip!
There are so many places for people that love to bird watch to go in Gatlinburg. Whether you want to take it easy or have a challenging hike, you’re bound to see a variety of birds on one of the area’s many trails.
When you book a cabin in Gatlinburg, you’re close enough to the Smoky Mountains for an early morning bird watching trip!
If you liked this, check out all of our other vacation guides to help you plan the perfect Smoky Mountain getaway. Be sure you like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram for all the best local deals.