Smoky Mountain Wildlife Should Be Respected

When visiting Cades Cove as well as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, be sure not to approach any of the wildlife too closely. GSMNP officials prohibit crowding, harassing and feeding wildlife in any part of the park. This they do to preserve a safe environment for the animals as well as a safe vacation for the Smokies tourists.

As a rule of thumb, if your presence in Cades Cove is altering an animals behavior, you are too close to that animal. This is never truer than when viewing the Smoky Mountain Black Bear. The Smokies bears are NOT pets, trained bears or well fed zoo animals. They are wild and only come out of their hiding places when they are hungry. Though park bears may appear cute and cuddly, even friendly at times, they also are capable of acting with aggression with lightning speed. Smoky Mountain black bears are omnivores eating mainly plant material, but they also eat animals and on rare occasions humans. Given the number of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park bear injuries are rare however bear related injuries do occur every year in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Given that fact and coupled with the recent bear related death in the park, it is wise to enjoy the bears briefly if you see them but watch from a safe distance or from the safety of your car. The woman who was recently killed by a mother bear and cub was found to have pictures to the offending bears in her camera. So again, enjoy the animals in Cades Cove and take comfort that they rarely attack humans, but at the same time respect their wildness and neither crowd nor feed them.

Bears In Cades Cove.

One of the smoky mountain visitor’s greatest delights is seeing a bear while in GSMNP. Cades Cove represents perhaps the best chance to see one of these magnificent beasts. The bears are most likely to be seen spring through the fall as they become very sleepy in the winter, becoming semi-hibernating.

The Smoky Mountain black bear is not as dangerous or as large and aggressive as the Grizzly. However, precaution and common sense should be used concerning GSMNP bears as they are wild animals.
There is approximately one bear per square mile in the Great Smoky Mountain National park although they are rarely seen except in Cades Cove. The reason for this is somewhat of a mystery except for the fact that bears are not interested in being seen by humans. Another reason might be that bears spend much of their time in trees where people rarely look for them. Dens are often located about twenty feet up the trunk of large trees. Here the Smokies black bears sleep through much of the winter, the females giving birth to her cubs even before she shakes off her sleepiness in the spring. Smoky Mountain black bear cubs weigh only seven or eight ounces when newborn. The mother bear will leave her cubs to search for food for short periods of time and eventually will bring her cubs, teaching them the resources for food and water which are found in the park. The Smoky Mountain bears are omnivores which means they eat just about anything from berries to insects to fish and small animals.

Bears are commonly sighted in Cades Cove. Look for them especially in the morning around their favorite feeding places such as oak or fruit trees, streams and berry patches. Most bears avoid human contact, however, do not approach a bear if you see one. Despite their cuddly appearance they are extremely unpredictable especially if accustomed to humans.

Coming to Cades Cove in the evening or morning will increase your chances of seeing Smoky Mountain Black bears. The bears of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park feed in the morning and evening and are most visible to the tourist at that time. Look for bears around berry brambles in July, around fruit tree’s in July and August, or by streams where bears may be fishing.
Bears are voracious eaters and grumpy when hungry. Need we say a wild grumpy bear is the last thing you want on your vacation to the Smokies? In addition, it is illegal to crowd or feed the bears in Cades Cove or other parts of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Both for your safety and that of the bears, the park enforces a stiff fine for bear infractions–up to $5,000 or six months in jail!
Bears who are frequently exposed to humans live shorter lives as they are susceptible to being hit by cars, ingesting toxins or injuring humans who think they are tame. Bears that injure humans are often killed to prevent further incident. In addition and most importantly don’t approach the Smokies bears because a woman was recently killed and partially eaten in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park by a bear and her cub. The woman’s camera contained pictures of the bears.

If a bear approaches a human it is usually to obtain food. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park recommends trying to scare bears away from campgrounds by making loud noises such as by banging campfire pots together and yelling. If that does not work seek safety in your car, not your tent. Food should be kept in a hardtop car or hung in trees according to the regulations of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. No food or food contaminated containers, napkins etc. should be left in the Cades Cove campground as they make scavengers out of the bears. In other words if you packed it into Cades Cove, pack it out when you leave.

Note: For more information about the Smoky Mountain black bear, Kate Marshall Graphics has produced an award winning video production about the black bear. The video has been approved for educational content by the National Park Service and the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, and is now being offered for sale at the official Park visitors centers.
Bobcats are found in Cades Cove.

Bobcats are nocturnal and rarely seen in Cades Cove or other parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, however, be assured of their presence. Bobcats weigh eighteen to twenty pounds and are about three feet in length. They prey on fawns and other small game.
Foxes Prefer Cades Cove.

Both red and gray foxes are found in the Great Smoky Mountain National park and both prefer Cades Cove to just about any other place in GSMNP. The reason for this is the availability of both forest and open fields. The trees in the cove also provide foxes with added protection from coyotes and other predators. Red foxes are not only more beautiful but are also more aggressive that their cousins the gray-fox. Gray’s are more common than red’s in the Cades Cove, but are not as easy to spot as their fur blends in with the background so well. The red fox has red fur over most of it’s body with black legs and a white tipped tail.

Coyotes are natural predators in Cades Cove.
Coyotes came across the Mississippi in the 1980’s and migrated to GSMNP and Cades Cove around 1985. Coyotes are helping to control small animal populations of Cades Cove. They pounce on their prey, holding it with their front paws before make the kill with their teeth.

Coyotes are dog-like in appearance but with noticeably smaller feet, thinner legs and bushier tail. They are about two feet tall and four feet log including their tail. Their facial features are distinctive, having pointy ears, round inquisitive eyes and an overall appearance that looks a bit like a German Shepherd.

Cades Cove skunks are cute, but should be avoided.

Striped and spotted skunks both are common in Cades Cove with their highly recognizable bushy tail, petite legs, agile hands and silky black and white fur. Despite their cute appearance few visitors are glad to see them however due to their ability to spray a foul smell. Generally speaking, you are in no danger of being sprayed by a skunk while in Cades Cove. The exception might be if you happen to surprise a skunk or threaten it in some other way. Skunks can spray a distance up to fifteen feet. They spray when their tail is most attractive or in it’s upright position. The eastern spotted skunk sometimes does a handstand with it’s rear towards it’s victim before it sprays. Therefore beware of all super cute skunks.

Skunk populations in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park are down due to distemper, although conditions are ripe for a comeback. Sometimes skunks cross the Cades Cove Loop with a litter of skunk kittens tagging along behind, so beware when driving and help the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s preserve it’s skunk population.


Beavers are making a comeback in Cades Cove.

Once a common site in Cades Cove, beaver were all but eliminated from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The fashion of beaver hats at the beginning of the twentieth century once threatened many populations of beaver in the United States, including those in the Great Smoky Mountains. Fortunately, beavers are making a recovery in Cades Cove as they are migrating from an area of North Carolina where they were reintroduced into that ecosystem.

Weighing up to sixty pounds, beavers are the largest rodent in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Beavers including their flat tail can grow up to four feet long. They are covered with waterproof brown fur, except for their tail which is black and hairless. Their fur is a little lighter brown on their underbelly. The beavers legs are fairly short with clawed partially webbed feet in the front and fully webbed feet in the rear. They prefer slow wide waters which are near trees.

Beavers are known as the natural engineers in Cades Cove as elsewhere in the Smokies. The beaver in Cades Cove can dam streams into sizeable ponds, by cutting down trees with their sharp teeth. This they do in order to construct their lodges and for other purposes. You may hear beaver in Cades Cove make a loud noise by smacking their tail on the waters surface. That is done as a warning to the colony of danger. At that point the colony heads for the safety of the lodges or tunnels which are dug out in the stream bank.
Beavers are capable of digesting tree bark which is their primary food source. The incisor teeth of the beaver are highly specialized, being large, flat, chisel shaped and ever growing. Because their incisors grow constantly, they must chew wood to keep their teeth from getting too long.


One of the most charming of all the critters in Cades Cove is the raccoon. It is a furry gray omnivorous animal with a ringed tail and a black mask across it’s eyes. Their diet consists of things such as crayfish, fish, baby rabbits, mice, eggs, fruit, nuts and other plant material, all plentiful in the Great Smoky Mountains. Intelligent, curious and inventive, raccoons pick up potential food objects with their hands to inspect them closely. In Cades Cove raccoons are often found in the dense forests that are near water. The animals like to turn rocks over that are near and in the waters edge in hopes of finding food such as insects, salamanders or crayfish. Raccoons make their dens in hollow trees, dense cattail stands, abandoned buildings, or dens abandoned by other types of animals.

Racoons are not visible to most Cades Cove visitors as they are nocturnal and are generally out only after dark and after the cove loop is closed. Park visitors who stay in cabins or chalets near the cove or in the Cades Cove campground may catch glimpses of raccoons hunting or playing once it is truly dark. Sometimes the raccoons will steal from campers and occasionally beg for tidbits of food.

Red Wolves are at home in Cades Cove.

Beautiful and shy, Cades Cove’s red wolves are a treat to see, but look quickly. They almost always run away when humans are around.

The River Otter

Once commonly sited in Cades Cove, otters were all but eliminated from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1920’s. The reason? Their beautiful pelts brought a pretty price in those days. What a shame as Cades Cove was once an especially safe haven for the funny semi-aquatic creatures. The Cherokee called Cades Cove “Tsiyahi” meaning otter place. Fortunately otters have come back to the cove. One hundred-forty otters were reintroduced into the ecosystem by the officials of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1980’s. Under the protective rules of GSMNP, the otters are now well established, especially in Abrams Creek and Little River.