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Your Guide to Viewing Wildlife in the Smoky Mountains

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Black Bear in a field in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife in the United States! With over 200 types of birds, more than 80 varieties of reptiles, and 65 species of mammals, the Smokies are teeming with all sorts of critters. Many visitors come to the mountains so they can catch a glimpse of some of the area’s signature animals.

To help you make the most of your vacation, Auntie Belham’s Cabin Rentals has put together a guide to viewing wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. Here is where and when to see the region’s most famous furry and feathered residents:

Black Bears

The black bear is the official mascot of the Smoky Mountains! With around 1,500 black bears in the national park, there are about two bears per square mile in the Smokies. While bears live throughout the park, the best places for spotting them are along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or in Cades Cove, since theses areas aren’t densely forested.

Bears hibernate during the winter, but they are active throughout the rest of the year. Late spring and early fall are especially good times for bear viewing. Try to plan your outing for the morning (6 – 10 a.m.) or the late afternoon (3 – 7 p.m.), as this is when bears usually come out to eat.

Be sure to always stay at least 150 feet away from any bears you may see in the Smokies and don’t leave any food behind in the national park.

White-tailed DeerA white-tailed deer sniffing behind her fawn's ears.

White-tailed deer are some of the most common wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. The best spots to see these timid creatures is in open fields like Cades Cove or Cataloochee Valley (which is on the North Carolina side of the park). The early morning and late evening are ideal for deer viewing, as the animals are more active during these cooler times of the day. Deer have a habit of grazing right after it rains or when it’s foggy outside, so try to take advantage of these instances.

Wild Turkey

It’s always fun to see wild turkeys waddling around in the national park! These birds typically travel in flocks, which makes them easier to spot than more solitary animals. The area around Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Cades Cove Loop are both known to be favorite turkey haunts. Drivers along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail may also catch a glimpse of turkeys searching for nuts and berries along the road. Don’t bother looking for turkeys at night, since they roost in trees when the sun goes down.


Elk were reintroduced into the Smoky Mountains in 2001, and now there are about 200 elk in the national park. If you want to see these magnificent creatures, you’ll need to visit Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Morning and evening are the best times for elk viewing. These animals can reach up to 700 pounds and they can be aggressive during their mating season in September and October, so be sure to stay at least 150 feet away from elk at all times.

A bull elk resting in the Smoky MountainsWhen you vacation with Auntie Belham’s Cabin Rentals, you will be just a short drive from all of the best spots for viewing wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins for romantic getaways to 9 bedroom lodges for family reunions, we are sure to have the perfect accommodations for your next trip. To start planning your getaway, browse our selection of cabins in the Smoky Mountains!