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Black Bears in the Smokies

Now that you’ve happily found yourself in the bear country what should you know? Black bears can be seen all throughout the Smoky Mountains, including near your vacation home. They have been known to sleep and walk near the home, sometimes in groups of three or four. They rustle trees and look for food and trash. Bears are unpredictable wild animals and you should not approach them, no matter how cute or tame they look. Please follow some simple guidelines to ensure you have a great time and no accidents.

This is some information we have found from the National Park Service and other sources about bears and bear safety. The most important step’s to keeping yourself and your vehicle safe is to never leave food or any scented items in the vehicles.  Bears will sniff out scents and attempt to break windows and open car doors if they smell food or anything that could be food.  Please be careful!


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 that 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.

Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution!

If you see a bear:

– Remain watchful

– Do not approach it

— If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.) you are too close.  Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.

If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, without vocalizing, or paw swatting:

– Change your direction

– If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground

– If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it

– Act aggressively to intimidate the bear

– Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground)

– Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear

– Use a deterrent such as a stout stick

– Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear

– Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems

If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food and you are physically attacked:

– Separate yourself from the food

– Slowly back away

If the bear shows no interest in your food and you are physically attacked, the bear may consider you as prey:

– Fight back aggressively with any available object!

– Do not play dead!

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.

Garbage Kills Bears!

The bear’s keen sense of smell leads it to insects, nuts, and berries, but the animal is also enticed by the tantalizing smells of human food and garbage such as hot dogs, apple cores, chips, and watermelon rinds left on the ground in picnic areas, campgrounds, and along trails. Feeding bears or allowing them access to human food and garbage causes a number of problems:

It changes the bear’s behavior and causes them to lose their instinctive fear of humans. Over time, these bears may begin approaching people in search of food and may become more unpredictable and dangerous.  Bears that obtain human food and garbage damage property and injure people. These bears pose a risk to public safety. They can also teach others to bear this dangerous behavior. Often, they must be euthanized.  Studies have shown that bears that lose their fear of people by obtaining human food and garbage never live as long as bears that feed on natural foods and are shy and afraid of people. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers.

Please keep yourself happy and safe by following these simple guidelines about bears!  To see bears near our vacation home please see these clips below.