Traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Remember these top 5 bear safety tips.

Bear safety tips for the Smoky Mountains
A black bear enjoys the scenery of Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains.

Spotting a bear during a trip to the Smoky Mountains is a bucket list item. While it can be thrilling, bears are wild animals and visitors should remain respectful at all times.

Here are 5 bear safety tips to keep in mind during your next visit to the Smokies. 

  1. Wear a whistle and carry bear spray. While in the mountains, periodically make noise. If bears are nearby, they will hear you. Typically, black bears will avoid humans. In case of an encounter, your whistle will encourage the bear to depart the area. The bear spray should only be used in a life-threatening situation. Luckily I have never had to use mine, but it’s best to be prepared.
  1. Don’t hike alone. You should always hike with at least one other adult. Safety in numbers is true when it comes to bear safety. During a potential standoff with a bear, you will appear larger as a group. Also, if someone becomes injured, having a partner could be life-saving. 
  1. Be “bear aware”. Constantly stay aware of your surroundings by scanning high and low. Bear, and other animals, can climb and sit in trees or on ridges. Remaining vigilant can prevent a bear encounter. Scanning the area allows you to identify animals as soon as possible, rather than unexpectedly getting too close.
  1. Keep dogs on leashes. This may sound obvious, but it’s actually a park rule. There are only two dog approved hiking trails (Gatlinburg Trail & Oconaluftee River Trail), although dogs are permitted at picnic areas, campgrounds, and along roadsides. If unleashed, your dog may see or smell bear and other wild animals, and then begin pursuit. Keep your dog leashed to avoid confrontations. Learn more about pets in the park here.
  1. Carry in/carry out. Be sure to remove any scraps or trash from your visit. There are bear-proof garbage receptacles in picnic areas and campgrounds, but you’ll need to carry off your trash when those aren’t available. Even the smallest food scrap, like apple cores, should not be left or thrown onto roadsides. Doing so can attract bears, and it trains them to return in search of food. This can be detrimental to wildlife and creates likelihood for a human encounter. 

Share these bear safety tips with your group

Seeing a black bear is a memory that you’ll enjoy for a lifetime! Be sure to enjoy bears from a safe distance and follow these bear safety tips during your next visit to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. If you do encounter a bear, follow these three safety tips. Study them and share them with your group. Thank you for respecting the wildlife of the Smokies.

Authored in Appalachia || Amy Morton


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