The Great Smoky Mountains offer pristine hiking trails, recreation, breathtaking scenery, and best of all – some of the best wildlife viewing within easy reach for all visitors. Below we’ll outline three of the best spots in the Smokies to see wildlife.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is unique among nature trails because it’s designed to be viewed from the comfort of your car. This makes it accessible for families traveling with small children, and those with physical limitations. Drive this 5.5-mile loop and you’ll see not only several of the area’s waterfalls, but you can also catch a glimpse of bald eagles, deer, turkeys, and maybe even black bears. If you head out in the morning, there will be fewer cars to compete with, and you’ll improve your chances of seeing wildlife.
The Best Place to Seek Out Wildlife: Cades Cove
Cades Cove is often cited as the best place to seek out wildlife in the Smokies because of its huge open meadows. Much of the park is densely wooded which can make spotting local birds and deer tricky, but here you’re almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse. Drive this 11-mile loop (or better yet bike it in the summers on Wednesdays when it’s closed to car traffic) to see whitetail deer, woodpeckers, bears, or otters. To increase your luck of seeing wildlife, try to be as quiet as you can and never approach them too closely. Your best chance of seeing black bears is in the morning or early evening hours.
Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg
If you’ve tried your luck at the park and didn’t see all you wanted to, there’s always the Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg to fill your needs. This zoo offers visitors a chance to see the native wildlife up close in their natural habitats. Check out river otters from their underwater viewing area; see skunks, turtles, snakes, and raccoons in their Nocturnal exhibit; or, say hello to their resident black bear family including Minnie and BJ and their cubs, Holly and Chief. The park is open every day and is $8 for adults, and $5 for kids 12 and under.