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Find out where to see bears in Gatlinburg for 2023.
If you’re looking for a bear sighting while in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, you’re in luck! There are several great places to see these majestic animals, both in the wild and in a wildlife encounter.
In this article, we’ll tell you about the best places to go.
For us it’s been far more exciting to see bears in the wild, although there is always some risk associated with this. Luckily there have not been many incidents of bear attacks on humans in the Smoky Mountains, and if you view bears from a distance then you are usually fine.
How Many Bears Live in the Smoky Mountains?
The National Park estimates that there are about 1500 black bears living in the park, which roughly equates to a population density of 2 bears per square mile.
The Smokies are a wonderful place to see the American black bear because the park is one of the largest protected habitats where these wonderful creatures can live in the wild.
What Time Do Bears Come Out in Gatlinburg?
Bear sightings are most common in early morning and late evening when the bears are most active, so if you are wanting to catch a glimpse of a wild bear, the best times are as follows:
Morning from sunrise to around 9 am
Late afternoon about 2 hours before sunset
This is in the spring and summer months, and keep in mind that in winter the bears are hibernating so you won’t see any bears in mid-to late December through about March.
What are the Chances of Seeing a Bear in Gatlinburg?
The chances of seeing a bear in Gatlinburg are actually quite good!
We have seen bears on several occasions, both in Cades Cove and also while hiking in the National Park.
While we can’t guarantee that you will see a bear on your trip, we can say that your chances are pretty good if you go to the right place and time of day (especially early morning or late evening in the spring and summer months).
Best Places to See Bears in the Wild Near Gatlinburg
Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is home to lots of wildlife. It’s definitely worth a visit and you get to see amazing historic buildings as well. It’s one of the most popular spots for bear sightings.
One of the main reasons Cades Cove is such a wonderful area to view bears is because there are more areas that are out in the open. Most of the National Park is wooded, but Cades Cove is in a valley and has open spaces, where bears can’t hide as easily.
Like Cades Cove, this area of the park is more open so bears can be more easily seen. It’s in a quieter and more remote part of the park, so bears like to forage in this area.
There is also an elk herd in this part of the National Park, so you might get a bonus in the form of an elk sighting! If you’ve never seen an elk in person you’ll be amazed at how large these majestic creatures are.
Other Areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove is by no means the only place to see bears in the park. Our family’s favorite sighting was on the Laurel Falls Trail, where we saw a mother and two cubs further up the mountain (away from the trails), and that is not part of the Cades Cove Loop.
In general, anywhere in the park is a good place to see bears. However, we think your best chance is in Cades Cove or the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a wonderful scenic drive that is well-known for amazing wildlife viewing.
Other Places to See Bears in the Smoky Mountains
To ensure you see a bear when you are on your vacation, check out one of these great bear encounters where you can view live bears in a safe environment.
Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski resort in Gatlinburg, and they have a wildlife encounter where you can see black bears, river otters, birds of prey, and more.
If you want to be sure to see a black bear, this is one of the places to go. They have a family of black bears that includes Minnie, BJ, Holly and Chief, and they are part of this zoo encounter in all but the winter months, when they hibernate.
This is a really neat place to go and you can get tickets to their multiple attractions or just the wildlife encounter. Besides the bears, we really love the underwater viewing area for the adorable river otters.
Location: 1001 Parkway, Suite 2, Gatlinburg
Three Bears General Store
The bears at this unique store were rescued from a nearby hunting farm and have been cared for at the General Store for over 25 years. They have an amazing 5000 square foot habitat with a pond and waterfall, and each bear has an individual den.
Enjoy viewing the bears from the two level observation facility.
Location: 2861 Parkway, Pigeon Forge
Tips for Staying Safe While Viewing Bears in the Wild
First, please note that willfully approaching a black bear within 50 yards (150 feet) is illegal in the park and poses a great risk to your safety. Remember that these are wild animals, so keep a safe distance both for your safety and bear safety.
Use a telefoto lens, binoculars, or a spotting scope to view bears.
Do not use a camera flash or make loud noises.
Give bears plenty of room to escape. If you see a bear on the trail, back away slowly and give the bear plenty of room to move off the trail.
Never feed or touch a bear, no matter how tame it seems. A fed bear is a dead bear, because they will become reliant on humans for food and will eventually be killed. They like to scour picnic areas looking for human food and food scraps, but food should never be left out where bears might find it.
Keep your distance from cubs, as the mama bear will be close by and may see you as a threat to her young.
You can carry bear spray, but there are rules for using it, so check before carrying it into the park.
In general, just using common sense is the best way to stay safe while viewing bears. Use your best judgment, give them plenty of space, and don’t approach them.
Final Thoughts on Bear Sighting in the Smokies
If you’re looking for a great place to see bears in the Smoky Mountains, we recommend checking out Cades Cove or one of the other areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can also visit Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter, where you’ll have a guaranteed sighting, or Three Bears General Store in Pigeon Forge. Just use common sense and be respectful when viewing these beautiful animals!
We hope you have a great time on your trip and get to see some amazing wildlife!