The black bear is the iconic symbol of the Smokies. About 1,500 black bears live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, meaning there are an average of two bears per square mile. Use these tips to view bears safely.
Getting close to bears is dangerous, and it’s also illegal. You risk fines or jail time if you intentionally come within 150 feet of a bear or try to feed one.
If the bear is passing, watch from indoors. If the bear is sniffing around your cabin or vehicle, stay inside bang on pots and pans at the windows, and make noise until the bear takes off.
Then secure trash bin lids tightly. Remove food from vehicles because bears can smell food locked inside your car. Keep grills and picnic spots clear of the trash.
Don’t approach the bear or allow it to come to you. If the bear is at a distance and ignoring you, keep watching it as you continue your hike.
If the bear alters its behavior–moves toward you or stops feeding to observe you–you’re too close. Don’t run. Don’t turn your back. Back slowly away. The National Park Service notes that the bear will likely do the same, eyeing you but backing off.
Don’t run. The bear might see you as prey. Face the bear, shout and wave your arms. Grab a stick and wave it. If you’re with others, stand close together and raise your arms high to appear bigger. Throw rocks or other items but never throw food. If you can climb a nearby rock or object to appear larger, do it.
Bear spray is permitted in the national park. If you bring bear spray, practice taking the safety catch off the canister. Carry the spray in a holster at your side.
If you must spray, wait until the bear is 20 feet away and aim just below the bear’s face. Don’t blast and run! Wait for the bear to retreat.
Never “play dead.” Fight back aggressively with anything you can grab.
Remember, avoiding a close encounter in the first place is the best way to stay safe and enjoy bears from a distance. Stay in a Smokies cabin and watch nature from your deck or windows all day!