Bear Facts

Black Bears are an iconic symbol of the Great Smoky Mountains and a treasure to our community.

While seeing a bear is a wonderful experience please follow these precautions to protect your family as well as the bears.

Black Bear Tips

Never approach bears.
Do not feed or place food to attract bears.
Do not leave grills or picnic tables unattended.
Only place trash in animal resistant cans or dumpsters.
Do not leave food in your car or in coolers outside the cabin

If you see a bear
Slowly back away from the bear
Bring children and pets indoors
Make sure the bear is aware of your presence by yelling and making noises
to frighten the bear and encourage it to leave.

Bears in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in wild, natural surroundings.

Bears inhabit all elevations of the park. Though populations are variable, biologists estimate that roughly 1,500 bears live in the park. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile. At one time, the black bear’s range included most of North America except the extreme west coast. However, loss of habitat has resulted in a significant reduction in this range.

Black bears in the Smokies are black in color, but in other parts of the country they may be brown or cinnamon. They may be six feet in length and up to three feet high at the shoulder. During the summer months, a typical adult male bear weighs approximately 250 pounds while adult females are generally smaller and weigh slightly over 100 pounds. However, bears may double their weight by the fall. Bears over 600 pounds have been documented in the park. Bears can live 12-15 years or more, however bears which have had access to human foods and garbage have a life expectancy of only half that time.

Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Plant materials such as berries and nuts make up approximately 85% of their diet. Insects and animal carrion provide valuable sources of protein for bears.

Bears have color vision and a keen sense of smell. In addition, they are good tree climbers, can swim very well, and can run 30 miles per hour.

Bear Behavior

Bears are most active during early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer. Mating usually takes place in July. Both female and male bears may have more than one mate during the summer.

Bears choose a denning site with the coming of cold weather. Dens are usually hollow stumps, tree cavities, or wherever there is shelter. Bears in the Smokies are unusual in that they often den high above the ground in standing hollow trees. Bears do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep. They may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends.

One to four cubs are born during the mother’s winter sleep, usually in late January or early February. Bears weigh eight ounces at birth. Females with newly born cubs usually emerge from their winter dens in late March or early April. Commonly born in pairs, the cubs will remain with the mother for about eighteen months or until she mates again.

Information provided by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Helpful Links

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Bearwise.org