Wildlife in Cades Cove

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with wildlife! Wherever you spend time within the national park, you have the chance to see a variety of animals in the Smoky Mountains. Everything from the Smoky Mountain bears to squirrels, raccoons, birds and so much more!

Black bear in the Smoky MountainsTips for Sightseeing: Animals in the Smoky Mountains

1. Don’t approach the animals too closely!

When visiting Cades Cove, as well as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure not to approach any of the wildlife too closely. National park officials prohibit crowding, harassing and feeding wildlife in any part of the park. They do this to preserve a safe environment for the animals in the Smoky mountains as well as the visitors to the park.

As a rule of thumb, if your presence in Cades Cove is altering an animals behavior, you are too close to that animal.

2. Remember the animals in the Smoky Mountains aren’t pets!

The animals are absolutely beautiful, but they are wild and only come out of their hiding places when they are hungry. Though the black bears in the Smoky Mountains may appear cute and cuddly, even friendly at times, they really appreciate having their own space away from human interaction. So be sure to keep your space because these animals aren’t household pets.

3. One of the best places to view the black bears is Cades Cove!

There is approximately one bear per square mile in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but your best chance to see the black bears are at 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 20 feet up the trunk of large trees. Here, the Smoky Mountain 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 7-8 ounces as newborns. 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 that can be found throughout the park.

4. Look for bears in the morning or early evening hours!

If you are trying to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains, try looking for them in the morning around their favorite feeding places such as oak or fruit trees, streams and berry patches. Just remember to stay away from these areas and view the animals from afar.

How to Stay Safe Around Smoky Mountain Black BearsSmoky Mountain black bear in a tree

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 campground. Be sure not to leave anything behind when you leave!

Other Animals in the Smoky Mountains

1. Bobcats in the Smoky Mountains

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 18-20 pounds and are about 3 feet in length.

2. Foxes in Cades Cove

Both red and gray foxes are found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and both prefer Cades Cove. The reason for this is the availability of both forestry and open fields. The trees in the Cove also provide foxes with added protection from coyotes and other predators.

Coyote in the Great Smoky Mountains3. Coyotes in Cades Cove

Coyotes came across the Mississippi in the 1980s and migrated to Cades Cove around 1985. Coyotes are dog-like in appearance but with noticeably smaller feet, thinner legs and bushier tail. They are about 2 feet tall and 4 feet long, 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.

4. Beavers making their way back to the Cove

Cades Cove was once a popular site to find beavers, but at some point, they 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 4 feet in length. 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 near trees.

5. Raccoons in the SmokiesRaccoon eyeing the camera

One of the most charming of all the critters in Cades Cove is the raccoon. It is a furry gray 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 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.

Raccoons are not visible to most Cades Cove visitors as they are nocturnal and are generally out only after dark and after the Cades Cove Loop Road 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.

6. Otters in Cades Cove

Once common in Cades Cove, otters were all but eliminated from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1920s. Fortunately, otters have come back to the Cove. 140 otters were reintroduced into the ecosystem by the officials of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1980s. Now, they’re under protective regulations by national park officials, and the otters are becoming well established, especially in Abrams Creek and Little River.