The Best Places to See Bears in Gatlinburg

Black bear cub with paws on trees.

The black bear is by far the most beloved animal in the Great Smoky Mountains! Millions of visitors come to Gatlinburg, TN each year to catch a glimpse of these amazing critters. With roughly 1,600 bears in the national park (around two bears per square mile), there are lots of opportunities for seeing these popular Smoky Mountain residents. To help you make the most of your vacation, Chalet Village has put together a guide to the best places to see bears in Gatlinburg.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the number one spot for wildlife viewing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unlike much of the park, which is densely wooded, Cades Cove is a valley with plenty of wide open space. It’s much harder for bears and other animals to stay hidden when they lack trees and bushes for cover. Cades Cove is also very easy to get around, since its 11 mile loop road allows you to search for wildlife right from the comfort of your vehicle.

A black bear walking through the woods.

As you drive through the valley, be sure to scan the trees along the road to look for bears. When a bear is spotted in Cades Cove, everyone in the area usually knows it, since it typically brings traffic to a halt. Sometimes, people even get out of their cars to observe a bear that is visible from the road. Remember to always stay at least 150 feet away from a bear, and be sure to listen to any park rangers who may arrive if a bear appears near the road.

Aside from their hibernation period during the winter, bears are active in Cades Cove and the rest of the national park throughout the year. Late spring and early fall are particularly good times to visit if you’re looking for bears. Early morning (6 – 10 a.m.) and late afternoon ( 3 – 7 p.m.) are the best times for bear viewing in Cades Cove. In addition to bears, Cades Cove is a great place to see wild turkey, deer, raccoons, and groundhogs.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another one of the best places to see bears in Gatlinburg. This is one of the most convenient spots for wildlife viewing in the Smokies, since the Motor Nature Trail is just minutes away from Chalet Village and The Strip.

The 5.5 mile one-way loop road is popular with bears because there are lots of berries and nuts in the area. If you’re lucky, you will spot a bear enjoying her lunch as you drive along the trail. Like in the rest of the national park, the early morning hours and the late afternoon are the ideal times for a visit.

Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter

While we can’t guarantee that you’ll come across any bears in the national park, when you visit the Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter, seeing bears is a sure thing! Located at the famous Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park, the wildlife encounter is home to a black bear family with a mom (Minnie), dad (B.J.), and their grown children (Holly and Chief). Besides the bears, guests will have the chance to see river otters, bobcats, flying squirrels, owls, raccoons, and snakes.

Closeup of a black bear.

Admission is just $6 for adults, $4 for kids between the ages of 5 and 11, and free for children 4 and under. Please note that despite not being in the wild, the bears at Ober Gatlinburg still hibernate and may not be visible in December, January, and February.

More About Bears in Gatlinburg

These are just some of the best places to spot bears in Gatlinburg! About 1,500 black bears call the Smoky Mountains home, so you have a chance to see them anywhere throughout the area. While seeing a bear in the wild is exciting, please remember that bears are wild animals, and their behavior can be unpredictable. The National Park Service requires you to stay 150 feet away from wildlife at all times. This is for both your safety and the bears’ safety! We hope you have a chance to spot bears in Gatlinburg when you visit!

When you stay at Chalet Village, you will be near all of the best places to see bears in Gatlinburg. Our cabin community is located on the same mountain as Ober Gatlinburg and minutes away from the national park and downtown Gatlinburg. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 8 bedroom cabins, we are guaranteed to have the perfect property for your next getaway. To start planning your vacation, browse our selection of cabins in Gatlinburg!