Wildlife Viewing

A white-tailed deer jumps a fence in Cades Cove
Open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee are excellent spots to look for wildlife such as white-tailed deer.

Sam Hobbs photo.


Viewing Tips
Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals. The narrow, winding road of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bear and other wildlife. During winter wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

Because many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It's also a good idea to carry binoculars. Some people like to sit quietly beside a trail to see what wildlife will come out of hiding. And don't forget to scan the trees—many animals spend their days among the branches.

Please read the important safety information at What Do I Do If I See A Bear?


Will YOU Be Responsible For An Animal's Death?
Did you know that the actions you take when you see a bear or an elk could result in the animal's death? It's up to YOU to protect the park's wildlife. Here's how:

Resist the temptation to share your sandwich with a bear! If you don't, you may be responsible for that bear's death! When you feed wildlife, you teach the animal to associate humans with food. Eventually the animal will lose its fear of humans and may become dangerous and unpredictable. It may injure another visitor in search of food. Animals that have been fed by visitors have had to be euthanized in the park.

Think that one potato chip won't hurt? Afterall, that bear is so cute ... and he looks hungry... Think again! Nearly 10,000,000 people visit the park each year. Even if 99% of visitors resist the temptation to feed wildlife, it still means that each year approximately 100,000 people endanger the park's animals by giving them food.

No photograph is worth an animal's life, so please do not approach animals or allow them to approach you. By allowing a bear or elk to approach you, you are training the animal to lose its fear of humans. This can lead to the animal becoming aggressive and dangerous, and can result in the park having to euthanize the animal. Remember that animals in the park are not tame. If an animal begins to approach you, carefully move away from it to the safety of your vehicle. An animal that approaches you does not want make friends with you! It has other motives... and you may not like them.

If saving an animal's life is not enough incentive for you, did you know that feeding, approaching, or disturbing park wildlife is a violation of federal regulations and can result in fines and arrest?

The laws protecting park wildlife are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations. It states that “Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces bear or elk is prohibited." In addition, feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife is prohibited.

As a rule of thumb, if you approach an animal so closely that it changes its behavior, you have approached too closely. Instead use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with telephoto lenses to enjoy wildlife. Watch for any modification in an animal's behavior that indicates that you have approached too closely. Move away from the animal until you reach a distance at which the animal feels comfortable once again and resumes whatever activity it was engaged in before you approached.


Last updated: May 30, 2024

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