As the days grow shorter and the night comes earlier and faster, the thousands of animals that call Great Smoky Mountains National Park home prepare for winter. One of these is the chipmunk which can be found gathering its winter stores of food in the fall. As with many of the creatures in the park (the eastern chipmunk is plentiful in Cades Cove and other areas of the park) the chipmunk doesn't actually hibernate, but enters a deep sleep, or torpor state. The chipmunk will get ready to enter one of its two breeding times in February so its winter sleep soon gives way to looking for a mate.
Nature has a way of making some creatures interdependent on each other. The park has the nickname, "Salamander National Park" due to the dozens of types of salamanders that live there. Some salamanders hibernate in winter, and some can often be found underneath logs and rocks.
Raccoons in Cades Cove are very opportunistic and can find the salamanders under the debris, as raccoons are omnivorous. They put on weight to prepare for winter and they have different behaviors; depending on the weather. Raccoons in some parts of the nation will go into a hibernation-like sleep if the temperatures drop below freezing, but in our area the raccoons' behavior can vary with the temperatures.
Several bat species live in the park. When winter comes these creatures need to either move to other areas in search of food (mainly insects) or hibernate. Most hibernate. Rattle snakes in the park also hibernate. All this talk of hibernation makes one wonder about our most famous and beloved animal in this area, the black bear. Do black bears hibernate in winter in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Black bears all over the country hibernate with the onset of cold weather. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they don't hibernate but go into a long sleep pattern that can last several months. If bothered or during a warm spell they sometimes awaken and move around but can return to their sleep state. During the wintertime females give birth to their cubs that emerge in the spring. In other parts of the country bears can dig dens in the ground; some of them getting started on this activity even before cold weather hits. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park bears build their dens off the ground; often in hollow trees or other sheltered areas.
Want to know more about black bears and how they spend the winter? Consult the park's resource page on black bears: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm
We would also like to acquaint you with our hiking and bear safety blog post so you will know what to do if you encounter a bear: https://gatlinburg.com/safety-tips-for-hiking-during-the-summer/