smoky mountains wildlife

If you’re trying to get away from it all, there are few better escapes than the Smoky Mountains.

Complete with stunning landscapes and easy access to the many attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the Smokies have everything you could want in a vacation destination.

And that includes wildlife. From flying squirrels to owls to elk to black bears, the Smoky Mountains wildlife is diverse and plentiful.

But wild animals are a skittish bunch, and if you don’t know where to look, you might travel from Cades Cove to Andrews Bald without spotting anything.

In this article, we’ll look at the best tips for spying the most beautiful and elusive Smoky Mountains wildlife.

Location Is Everything

To see animals, you have to go where the animals are. And they’re not at Dollywood.

The best place to see Smoky Mountains wildlife is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a national park that serves as a sanctuary for hundreds of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and reptiles.

At over 800 square miles of protected land, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest protected bear habitat east of the Mississippi. While the population fluctuates, biologists estimate there is an average of two black bears per square mile.

Cades Cove is one of the most popular sections of the park for wildlife viewing. This is because it is not as densely forested as the rest of the park.

Cades Cove also features a long winding road passing through it so you can see Smoky Mountains wildlife from the safety and comfort of your car. It is not uncommon for visitors to see bears, foxes, elk, and squirrels foraging for food as they drive through Cades Cove.

Cataloochee Valley is another popular wildlife viewing spot. At dusk and dawn, large groups of elk, deer, and wild turkey come to the valley to graze.

Smoky Mountains Wildlife Habits

While wild animals aren’t completely predictable, they are some habits that can help guide your watching.

First, keep in mind that most animals take shelter in the hottest part of the day. A 3 p.m. wildlife expedition would likely be disappointing.

Instead, plan your trips for morning and evening when it is cooler. This is when most larger animals, such as black bears and elk come out to feed.

Smoky Mountains Mammals

Black bears spend most of their waking hours foraging for berries and nuts. Keep an eye on bush-covered hillsides.

While there are only a handful of elk in the park, deer are very numerous. Deer can most often be seen at morning and dusk grazing in grassy areas.

They are also known to come out after rainstorms. A glimpse of a herd of deer grazing on a foggy afternoon is a sight you will never forget!

Flocks of wild turkey are also a common site. They can be spotted at every elevation throughout the park and travel in large groups, so keep a look out.

Cades Cove is also home to herds of wild boars which can often be found rooting around for food.

Many species of Smoky Mountains wildlife are exclusively nocturnal, so they are a more difficult to spot. Bobcats, bats, skunks, and coyotes only come out at night, so you may only catch a passing glance of them at dawn or dusk.

Red wolves are common in the park, but they are quite shy around humans. If you spot one of these beautiful canids, consider yourself lucky!

While smaller animals can be harder to find through the park’s dense forest, they are a rewarding find.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a paradise for birdwatchers. Hundreds of bird species pass through the region, filling the treetops and rivers.

Common loons and wood ducks are regular fixtures in streams and bonds. Swifts, starlings, sparrows, thrushes, and woodpeckers can often be seen flying between the trees.

While many species of owls make their home in the park, peregrine falcons, ospreys, and even bald eagles have been spotted occasionally. Keep your eyes open!

Creepy Crawlers

The wetter portions of the Smoky Mountains are also a great place to spot amphibians and reptiles.

The Park has sometimes been called the Salamander Capital of the World. With over thirty distinct species of salamanders squirming along the riverbanks and through the mud, it’s a nickname that’s well deserved.

There is also a huge variety of frogs, toads, snakes, and turtles making their home in the forest floor of the park. It may take some sneaking around and turning rocks, but the patient explorer is sure to be rewarded.

A Fisherman’s Paradise

If you’re a fishing fanatic, the park’s 700 miles of streams and rivers support over fifty native fish species.

Warm, slow moving streams have created an ideal environment for a diverse aquatic ecosystem. Trout and Sturgeon are common, as well as a few more endangered species such as the Smoky Madtom and Spotfin Chub.

Don’t Get Too Close

It should be common sense, but enough people ignore this advice that it bears repeating. Give the animals space!

Smoky Mountains wildlife is staggeringly beautiful, but it is to be appreciated from a distance.

Black bears are far less dangerous than their grizzly cousins. But a black bear that has learned to associate humans with food can be annoying at best. In the worst case, they can be deadly.

They are bears, after all.

No matter how cute that little black bear is, he’ll be able to survive without your sandwich.

If you’re camping in the park, make sure that you keep your food far out of their reach.

Despite their elegant appearance, elk can be very aggressive. Elk tip the scales around seven hundred pounds and carry a nasty pair of antlers. That’s not a combination you want to experience.

As part of its conservation efforts, the park even has policies restricting human proximity to elk. If you willfully get too close, you can face fines or even arrest.

Do yourself and the animals a favor and maintain a healthy distance.

Book Your Stay

The Smoky Mountains are a great beautiful destination for the travel trying to get away. But finding a good place to stay in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge can be difficult.

Let Great American Patriot Getaways help you find a better stay. Beat the motel and choose between dozens of beautiful cabin getaways.

Contact us today to book your stay!

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