The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a vast array of wildlife, including black bears, elk, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and over 200 species of birds.
Note: When viewing wildlife in the park, keeping a safe distance and avoiding feeding the animals is essential. Feeding wildlife is not only illegal in the park, but it can also lead to dangerous interactions between humans and animals.
Below is a detailed guide to some of the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including specific information on each species and where they are more likely to be spotted.
Wildlife found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States, with over 17,000 documented species calling the park home.
Whether hiking through the park's scenic trails or exploring its streams and rivers, there is always the possibility of encountering one of the park's fascinating inhabitants.
This guide will explore some of the most notable animals in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the best places to view them.
The black bear is perhaps the most iconic animal in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are estimated to be over 1,500 black bears in the park, making it one of the largest protected populations in the eastern United States.
The best places to view black bears are in the Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley areas, particularly in the early morning or late afternoon.
Reminder – keeping a safe distance from the bears and never feeding them is essential. If you see a bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, staying calm and following these steps on the park website is crucial.
Elk were reintroduced to the park in 2001, and the herd has since grown to over 200 animals.
The best place to view elk is in the Cataloochee Valley, particularly during the fall mating season when the bulls are most active. But you may also view them early morning or late evening as they head into feeds to graze.
The white-tailed deer is one of the most commonly seen animals in the park, with an estimated population of over 6,000. They can be found throughout the park, particularly in the Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley areas. During the fall, the male deer, known as bucks, can be seen with their impressive antlers.
Coyotes are relatively new to the park, having shown up in the area since the 1980s. Typically coyotes can be spotted in the open fields along the Cades Cove loop road, particularly in the early morning or late afternoon.
Bobcats are elusive animals and are rarely seen in the park. However, they can be found throughout the park, particularly at higher elevations. They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 200 species of birds, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers. Some of the most commonly seen birds include wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, warblers, thrushes, and vireos.
The best places to view birds are in the higher elevations, particularly along the Clingmans Dome road and the Cataloochee Valley.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to the highest diversity of salamanders in the world, with over 30 species found in the park.
Expect to find salamanders throughout the park in streams, rivers, and moist areas. The most commonly seen species include the red-cheeked salamander, the blue ridge two-lined salamander, and the northern dusky salamander.
The park is home to over 20 species of snakes, including venomous species (copperhead and timber rattlesnake). However, snake encounters are relatively rare, and most snakes will avoid humans if given a chance.
The best places to spot snakes, or if you'd rather avoid snakes, are in the park's lower elevations, particularly near streams and rivers.
River otters were once extinct in the park, but in the early 1990s reintroduced. They can now be found throughout the park, particularly in the streams and rivers. Pay attention to a wallowed area for your best chance of finding an otter!
Tip: A wallow will be along a river bank. It will not have any grass and will look like a waterslide!
They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon and can often be spotted swimming or playing in the water. Try to catch a view of one along the Little River Trail!
Check the lower portions of creeks in the westerly and southwesterly parts of the park if you'd like to spot a beaver! They are most active at night but can sometimes be seen building dams and lodges during the day.
Wild turkeys are commonly seen throughout the park, particularly in the Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley areas. They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon.
Red Fox and Gray Fox
Both red and gray foxes can be found throughout the park, particularly in the lower elevations. Fox are most active at night but can sometimes be active during the day. At night you could see them along the roadside.
If lucky, you may view gray fox in Cades Cove, while red fox may appear in Cataloochee Valley. Visitors can sometimes spot both fox species along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail during the day.
Raccoons are commonly seen throughout the park, particularly in the campgrounds and picnic areas. They are most active at night and can sometimes search for food in trash cans and other human sites.
The rare pygmy shrew is a tiny creature that weighs less than a dime and lives in moist, wooded areas with dense underbrush and leaf litter. They are also known to frequent the banks of streams and rivers, where they can find a steady supply of insects to feed on.
Spotting pygmy shrews in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be difficult, but exploring these areas can increase your chances of seeing these elusive creatures: Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Porters Creek Trail, and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
Wildlife by Park Areas
Listed below are common areas to view the largest array of wildlife in the park.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas in the park for wildlife viewing. The 11-mile one-way loop road that winds through Cades Cove offers excellent opportunities to see deer, black bears, coyotes, and other animals. You may also spot some of the park's bird species, including wild turkeys and red-tailed hawks.
On Wednesdays, from May through September, the Cades Cove Loop is closed to automobile traffic, creating a quiet time to enjoy the area via bicycle. Bike rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Cades Cove Campground store during summer and fall.
Cataloochee Valley is a remote area of the park home to elk, black bears, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys. Other more elusive types of wildlife found in the area include red fox and bobcat.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. It's also an excellent spot to view birds, including warblers, thrushes, and vireos. During the fall, you may see hawks and eagles soaring above the mountains.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile one-way road that winds through a picturesque valley, offering excellent opportunities to view black bears, deer, and other animals. The trail also features several waterfalls and historical buildings, making it a great spot for a leisurely drive or hike.
Little River Road
Little River Road is a scenic route that runs through the heart of the park, offering opportunities to view various wildlife, including deer, bears, and wild turkeys. The road also passes several picnic areas, making it an excellent spot for a family outing.
Final Thoughts: Animals in the Smoky Mountains
When viewing wildlife in the park, it's important to remember that these animals are wild and can be dangerous. Always keep a safe distance, and never approach or feed the animals.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a fantastic destination for wildlife enthusiasts. You can view various animals and birds in their natural habitat with patience and careful planning.
Now that you know what wildlife to look for and where to look, get out there and start looking for them!
I wish you the best of luck in spotting the animals that interest you!
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