Great Smoky Mountains
National Park

It's the most visited National Park in the United States. It's so big that scientists are still discovering some of the plant and animal species that live there. The park is home to more than 1,500 bears so keep your eyes open when hiking the Smoky Mountain trails. Nothing beats seeing a bear in the park, and there are plenty of other breathtaking sights here in the Smoky Mountains–waterfalls, winding valleys and century-old architecture..

Back to Experience Gatlinburg

Smoky Mountain Wildlife & Nature

Vacations are all about escaping the everyday, and nothing will remind you of that more quickly than spotting a bear or elk in the Smokies. Because Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a thriving black bear habitat, chances are good you’ll catch a sight of these magnificent creatures, along with an incredibly diverse population of plant and animal species.

This is a place where you can truly surround yourself with nature. Read below for tips on hiking into black bear habitat and spotting wildlife such as wildflowers, bird species and elk in the Smokies.


They're big, and they're beautiful. But be careful!

No one forgets a black bear sighting in the Smokies. There are over 1,500 of them all around, and while they are protected, they are far from tame. The Park provides one of the very few places in the Eastern U.S. where Black Bears thrive in a wild, natural habitat. They are big, dangerous and fast. "Don't feed the bears" is not a cliche.

What looks like a slow, lumbering Mama Bear can actually run over 30 miles an hour, swim a creek and easily climb a tree. Attacks on humans are very rare, but there's a reason it's against the law to approach within 50 yards of one. Check out these bear safety tips, and keep your eyes open for one of the Park's most majestic creatures, especially around Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.


Birdwatchers, bring your binocs and logbooks.

The Smokies are alive with over 200 species of birds. Many live here year round, and most take advantage of the varied elevations and protected habitat to breed in the forests and hills. Some are passing through on their annual migrations, so there are interesting species to witness all year round.

If you know how to listen and look, you may find as many as 100 species of birds in a day. If you are an avid birdwatcher on your way to the Park, check out this great book (link) from the Great Smoky Mountains Association, called Birds of the Smokies, full of great photos, tips and 25 years of experience and birdlore.

Elk and Deer

The few and the many.

Elk were essentially wiped out of the Eastern US by the mid-1880's, but there's great news: if you're alert, you may come across some of the closely monitored elk reintroduced to the Park in 2001.

They're huge - males weigh as much as 700 pounds, and during mating season, you may hear their calls from a mile away. Meanwhile, white-tailed deer prosper throughout the Smokies, and odds are you'll spot some no matter where you are.

Trees and Forests

The wild woods cover 95% of the Smokies.

Whether you're a hardcore hiker or just love a quiet walk in the woods, there are plenty of pathways into the forests of the Smokies. There are over 100 species of trees, and another hundred species of shrubs, more than in all of northern Europe combined.

The greens of spring and summer are spectacular, and when the forests transform in the fall, folks come from all over the world to witness one of nature's most vivid displays of color.


Bloomin' like crazy.

Wildflower watchers also refer to the Smokies as simply "Wildflower National Park." There's no other place in America with so many species of flowering plants. There are the famous mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azaleas, and over 1,600 more species bloom in every season but wintertime. Plan a wildflower walk or partake in the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, a five-day festival celebrating the arrival of springtime.

  • Scenic Routes

    There are nearly 400 miles of roads with unspoiled, breathtaking scenery at every turn. Here's where to start.

  • Hikes & Waterfalls

    There are 150 maintained trails, scores of waterfalls, picturesque valleys and breathtaking vistas.

  • Wildlife & Nature

    There are more than bears in them thar hills. Fauna, meet Flora.

  • History & Homesteads

    Before it was a park, the Great Smoky Mountains were home to explorers, adventurers and settlers alike. Here are heritage high points worth stopping for.

  • Picnicking

    Bring your basket, take a break, lay a spread and enjoy the view.