Local Wildlife: the Animals You Might See During Your Stay

nextguest | 25th November 2019

When you think of exotic wildlife, your mind may travel to faraway nature parks in Africa and South America — but there’s a world-class wildlife reserve here in Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. Elk, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats are just a few of the animals that can be found throughout the national park, along with the majestic avian species that migrate through the Appalachian region each year. Here’s a guide to where and how to locate each one.

Elk

Elk sightings are fairly common in the Cattaloochee Valley, near Maggie Valley, as a herd of the species was reintroduced to this part of the Smokies in the early 2000s. Roughly 200 elk populate the area today, so hawk-eyed visitors have periodically caught sightings of the creatures, especially in the morning and evening. 

Coyotes

Coyotes are among several canine species that inhabit the Cades Cove area of Smoky Mountain National Park, but due to their nocturnal schedules, it can be notoriously difficult to track these creatures down. Your best bet is to use your ears, rather than eyes, to seek them out; their shrill, piercing howls have been known to echo through Cades Cove.

Black Bears

Black bears inhabit so much of eastern Tennessee that they’re practically synonymous with the Smokies themselves. There’s no need to gravitate toward a specific valley or trail for a sighting (although Cades Cove and the Little River are known to attract larger groups) — it’s recently been estimated that there’s an average of two bears per square mile of the park.

View this post on Instagram

Fun Fact Friday: did you know that the black bear cubs you see in the summer and fall are being born right around now? After a female black bear goes into her winter den when the weather turns cooler in the late fall, she goes into a deep sleep rather than a true hibernation. It’s during this sleep, usually in January or February, that her cubs are born! Mama and cubs will emerge from their den between late March and early April. While we’re talking about bears, friendly reminder that no matter how cute they might look, it is NEVER safe to approach a bear. Remember to always give any wildlife at least 150 feet of distance so that you can safely enjoy the land they call home! Photo: Warren Bielenberg

A post shared by Great Smoky Mountains NP (@greatsmokynps) on

Bobcats

Bobcats are highly camouflaged, as well extremely shy and reclusive, so your chances of spotting one are close to zero. If you’re intent on giving it a try, however, previous sightings have often occurred near the bear and coyote sightings, around Cades Cove.

Birds

Warblers, thrushes, sapsuckers, cuckoos, owls, and peregrine falcons are just a handful of the birds known to migrate to areas like Grotto Falls, Alum Cave, Mount LeConte, and Clingman’s Dome. Read up on your avian of choice before picking your birding destination— different species are attracted to different elevations and climate throughout the park.

You might also want to read…

Mar 20, 2020

Educational Activities in the Smokies for Kids

The Smoky Mountains are great for anyone to visit, but

Mar 10, 2020

How to Pack for a Trip to the Smokies

The Smoky Mountains are a great destination year round, from

Mar 1, 2020

Spring in the Smokies: Wildflower Blooms

Among the many ways to experience nature in the Smokies,

Sign up for our weekly newsletter