Frequently Asked Questions about Bears at Cades Cove Visitor Center

Frequently Asked Questions about Bears at Cades Cove Visitor Center

Sarah Shiver

By Sarah Shiver, Sales Assistant

I have spent much of my life in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which allowed me to learn about it from a very young age. Each visit provided a new learning opportunity and helped me become familiar with (though certainly not an expert in) everything from hiking trails to animal behavior.

While working at Cades Cove Visitor Center for the past few months, I’ve discovered that many first-time visitors to the park turn to park staff and volunteers with very similar—and often predictable—questions. Whether you are planning your first trip to GSMNP or just returning home from your hundredth, hopefully you can learn from these frequently asked questions about the most popular animal in the park: black bears. 

A Smoky Mountain black bear taking a quick rest. Image courtesy of Joye Ardyn Durham.
A Smoky Mountain black bear taking a quick rest. Image courtesy of Joye Ardyn Durham.

Q: Where’s the best place to see bears?
Anywhere in or near the park! Cades Cove is a popular destination for wildlife viewing due to the open fields that make it easier to spot bears, deer, turkey, coyotes, and other critters. However, there is no guarantee that you will see a bear while in the Cove. After all, they are wild animals and travel wherever they please. You may also spot them along Laurel Creek Road and Little River Road.

Q: Are there only black bears in the park?
Well, yes and no, depending on what exactly you mean. The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only bear species in GSMNP. However, not all of them have black fur! They can also be dark or light brown, cinnamon, or even blonde.

Q: We just saw a mama bear with three cubs! Is that unusual?
Not at all! Black bear sows can have anywhere between one and six cubs, although litters of two or three cubs are the most common.

Two cubs explore the wildreness. Image courtesy of Joye Ardyn Durham.
Two cubs explore the wilderness. Image courtesy of Joye Ardyn Durham.

Q: Do bears have any predators in the park?
Adult black bears rarely face predation from any species, but cubs are more vulnerable. They can be preyed upon by coyotes, bobcats, and male black bears.

Q: When do you feed the bears?
We do not feed the bears. In fact, it is illegal to feed animals in GSMNP. It is important for all of our visitors to practice proper food storage and trash disposal procedures to ensure that our bears and other creatures do not get a taste for human food. For younger bears, this can create a dependency that impairs their ability to find and survive off of food in the wild. It can also cause them to venture into urban areas in search of it. Our bears have plenty of food available to them—acorns, blackberries, wild cherries, fresh grass shoots, and many other goodies that are native to the park.

 

You can learn more about these and many other questions in two books we carry in our stores:

First, our newly released second edition of the popular book Frequently Asked Questions about Black Bears by Courtney Lix. This new edition has BearWise® Tips.

Second, the Living with Bears Handbook by Linda Masterson, who is the co-director of marketing and communications for BearWise.

Learn more at bearwise.org.

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