4 Safety Tips You Should Know About Black Bears in the Smoky Mountains

April 26, 2022

Many folks visiting the Great Smoky Mountains hope to see at least one black bear during their time in the National Park! After all, the black bear is the iconic symbol of the park and is one of the first things that people associate with the Smokies! While it can be fascinating to encounter a bear while hiking along the trails or exploring the historical sights, you’ll also want to be aware of some important precautions to keep you and the bear safe! Here are 4 safety tips you should know about black bears in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Never Approach a Bear

black bear in Cades CoveOne of the most important safety tips about black bears in the Smoky Mountains is that you should never approach a bear! While some people are tempted to get a closer view, it is essential to remember that bears are wild animals that are dangerous and unpredictable! It is actually illegal to willfully approach within 150 feet of a bear (or within any distance that disturbs the bear) inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The best way to view the bears is from a safe distance with binoculars, telephoto lens or a spotting scope.

2. Slowly Back Away if You Stumble Upon a Close Encounter

While hiking through a winding trail in the park, you never know what you might encounter – even a bear! If you find yourself in a circumstance where you are relatively close to a black bear, resist the urge to run and slowly back away from the bear. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the bear at all times to monitor its behavior, as being too close may promote aggressive behavior such as making loud noises, swatting the ground or even running towards you. If you increase the space between you and the bear slowly, the bear will likely do the same.

3. Be Mindful of Carrying and Handling Food

black bear cubAnother one of the safety tips about viewing black bears is that you should be very mindful of how you carry and handle food. If you are on a hike of a significant distance, it is likely that you’ll be stopping at least once to enjoy a quick snack. Black bears have a strong sense of smell that leads them to human food, including trash that has been left along the trails. Therefore, be sure to clean up any food scraps and dispose of them properly or take them out of the park with you. If you happen to be close to any campgrounds or picnic areas, you’ll find convenient bear proof dumpsters and trash cans.

4. Carry Bear Spray for Protection

Hikers visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are permitted to bring bear pepper spray into the park for the sole purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife. Therefore, consider bear spray as one of your essential hiking items when planning your trip! If a bear is following you, begin to discharge the spray when the bear comes within 20 yards. Keep in mind that bear spray cannot be used to apply to your body, hiking packs or any other equipment as a repellent.

Now that you know some of the important safety tips about encountering black bears in the Smoky Mountains, you can enjoy the sights of these amazing animals without posing a threat to yourself or to the bears! While you never know where you might spot a bear during your hiking adventure, there are a few places that are especially well known for black bear activity!