Black bears are iconic mascots of the Smoky Mountains. Their images are everywhere from quilts to coffee mugs. But how do you see a bear in the wild?
Visit spots known for bear sightings and bring your patience with you. Bears are most active in the morning and the early evening, when they forage. Check out these 10 places around Gatlinburg to look for black bears. Remember: Never approach or feed any bear or cub. Stay at least 150 feet from bears.
1. CADES COVE
Cades Cove is home to abundant wildlife. Drive the 11-mile loop road but be sure to stop and stroll into the woods for the best chances of seeing bears.
2. NEWFOUND GAP
This dramatic mountain pass is known for frequent bear sightings. The scenic drive lets you spot bears from the comfort of your car.
3. RICH MOUNTAIN LOOP
This moderately hard, 4.5-mile hiking trail starts in Cades Cove but takes you into forests frequented by bears.
4. GREGORY BALD
Bears relish the wild blueberries that fill the meadow on top of Gregory Bald each August. Reaching the meadow requires a challenging 12-mile round trip hike, but for bear lovers, the climb is worthwhile.
5. ROARING FORK MOTOR NATURE TRAIL
The one-way, winding road runs through thick woods, prime bear-spotting territory. Look up and use those binoculars! Cubs often play in the trees.
6. CATALOOCHEE VALLEY
More isolated than Cades Cove, quiet Cataloochee is less visited, so there’s less human activity to scare bears away.
7. OBER GATLINBURG
To see black bears up close, visit the bear family at Ober’s Wildlife Encounter. Learn all about mom, dad and their two grown-up “cubs,” and see other native Smokies animals too.
8. SUGARLANDS VISITOR CENTER
Eight hiking trails, ranging from just over one mile to nearly nine miles long, begin near the visitor center. Visitors have seen bears even along the busy Gatlinburg Trail.
9. LITTLE RIVER ROAD DRIVING TOUR
This 18-mile drive from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Cades Cove meanders past trailheads and swimming holes. Look for bears in the woods along this lovely road.
10. DOWNTOWN GATLINBURG
Sometimes bears wander into town. Don’t approach them, but do grab a look. If you see a crowd gathered, looking at something, they’ve probably spotted a wayward bear.