Wildlife Viewing Tips: Finding Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Animals

DATE : April 30, 2018

A black bear cub in a tree in the Smoky Mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is famous for its spectacular wildlife! The Smokies are home to around 65 species of mammals, more than 200 varieties of birds, over 80 types of reptiles and amphibians, and 67 native fish species. When you vacation in Gatlinburg, TN, you will have ample opportunities to see these fascinating critters around the park. To help you make the most of your next getaway, the Bearskin Lodge has put together a guide to finding some of the most popular Smoky Mountain animals.

1. Black BearsA black bear walking through the woods.

Black bears are the most beloved animals in the Smokies! Between 1,500 - 1,600 bears live in the national park, which works out to around two bears per square mile. If you have your heart set on seeing a black bear during your vacation, we recommend visiting Cades Cove. While much of the park is densely forested, Cades Cove’s wide open spaces make it a great destination for spotting wildlife. As you drive around the valley, be sure to scan the trees on the side of the loop road for bears.

Although it is less reliable than Cades Cove, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is also known to have bear sightings. While Cades Cove is about 50 minutes away from the Bearskin Lodge, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is just a 4-minute drive from our hotel.

Late spring and early fall are the best seasons for seeing bears, and winter is the worst, as bears hide away inside of tree cavities during the cold weather months. If possible, try to plan your bear viewing expedition in the morning (6 - 10 a.m.) or late afternoon (3 - 7 p.m.), since this is when bears are most active. Humans should always stay at least 150 feet away from bears.

A stunning pileated woodpecker.2. Birds

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a bird watcher’s paradise! Two of the most popular spots in the Smokies for birding are Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and Cades Cove. Some of the birds you can expect to see around Clingmans Dome include:

  • Canada Warbler
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Common Raven
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Winter Wren
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Dark-eyed Junco

Birds that are known to frequent Cades Cove include:

  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Wild Turkey
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Orchard Oriole

3. ElkMale and female elk in the Smoky Mountains.

Elk were once plentiful in the Great Smoky Mountains, but over-hunting and loss of habitat drove them to local extinction around the mid-1800s. However, in 2001, the National Park Service launched an ambitious project to reintroduce elk to the Smokies, starting with just 25 elk. Today, there are over 200 elk in the national park!

If you want to see these beautiful Smoky Mountain animals, you’ll have to travel to the North Carolina side of the national park. Most of the elk in the Smokies live in Cataloochee Valley, although a smaller population is known to live around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Elk are most active in the early morning and late evening.

A white-tailed deer fawn in a field.4. White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are very common in the Smoky Mountains, but the absolute best spots for viewing them are Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley. Deer prefer cooler weather, so they are more active in the early morning and late evening. We recommend looking for deer on a foggy day or soon after it has rained since deer love to graze during these conditions.

Where to Stay in GatlinburgA hotel room at the Bearskin Lodge with two Queen beds

Located right on River Road, the Bearskin Lodge is just minutes away from all of the fun in downtown Gatlinburg and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Offering garage parking, private balconies with beautiful views, an outdoor swimming pool, a lazy river, and the comfiest beds in town, our hotel has everything you need for a spectacular vacation. To start planning your escape, browse our selection of Gatlinburg hotel rooms!