Black Bears in Cades Cove
Spotting the black bears in Cades Cove is one of the most sought after experiences when visiting the Cove. The black bears in Cades Cove are a majestic sight, indeed; however, there are a few things to be aware of when seeking out this experience.
Don’t Feed the Black Bears in Cades Cove
Yes, the black bear is a symbol of the Smokies. All around Tennessee towns and parks sell t-shirts and hoodies with black bears on them, mugs with a charismatic bear on it. Representations of the beautiful black bear can be found everywhere. However, this adorable black bear everyone was pushing gave people the impression that they were approachable, and people began trying to get up close and feed the bears. DON’T DO THIS.
Feeding the black bears in Cades Cove can be tragic, for both bear and human. Ever feed a family dog from the table or give him food off your plate? What happens is they began to expect it, and can become beggars. And people lose sight that this is still a wild animal and can be aggressive and dangerous. It’s just not a good combo. The park has worked hard to educate people on this matter and thus there are more bears living in the park than ever before.
Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the park; this is the largest population ever recorded in the Smokies. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile.
This is large part due to the cut back of “nuisance bears,” the ones people condition to approach humans for food.
In addition, our knowledge about black bears continues to grow, thanks to professors and researchers at the University of Tennessee who have been studying the black bears of the Smokies since 1968.
How to Spot Black Bears in Cades Cove
Now, more bears are truly wild and less likely to approach humans. However, this also means humans are less likely to see black bears. But follow some of the tips below and you’ll greatly increase your chances.
Bears can be found throughout the park, but are easiest to spot in open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.
Go in the morning (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) or late afternoon (3 – 7 p.m.). Black bears tend to be out foraging around these times, and an added perk is that the morning and/or evening light is divine.
Bring binoculars! Because you don’t want to get too close to the bears, binoculars are a great way to get that close look that you will inevitably desire.
Keep your eyes on the trees. Black bears love to climb. There are several food items that can be found up there.
Stay at least 150 feet away. If a bear stops what it is doing and watches you, you are too close. If a bear makes a move towards you or makes loud noises or swats the ground, it is demanding more space. Give it to him obviously, but don’t run. Slowly back away with your eyes still on the bear. Increase your distance, the bear will most likely do the same.
Other bear safety tip scan be found here: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/black-bears.htm
There is an 11-mile scenic route that has become a main attraction; it’s a great way to experience the Smokies, and the drive has earned a great reputation as a hub for black bears. The loop is, like life, whatever you make of it. You can zip around and hope to spot a bear or two, or you can stop and take your time at the many landmarks along the way, a drive that could stretch to 4, 5, even 6 hours if you’d like.
If you are on a wild bear chase around the loop, be patient. It’s worth it when you do see one.
Regardless if you get to see the elusive black bears or not, you will undoubtedly enjoy your time in the Smokies simply because of the other kinds of wildlife and all the wonderful natural beauty present there.