Watching Wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains, which are among the most visited mountains/National Park in the entire country, are a great place to get in wildlife viewing and exploration. Containing some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East and acting as a critical sanctuary for a wide variety of animals, the park is home to 65 species of mammals, 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians.

Known for its prevalence of black bear sightings, the Great Smoky Mountains provide the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Many biologists estimate that 1,500 bears live in the park, with about two bears residing per square mile. Of course, there are other residents there as well, including the white-tailed deer, the groundhog, the chipmunk, and many different varieties of squirrels. Plus, some 120 birds nest there, several of which qualifying as Species of Concern. That makes the Great Smoky Mountains a very important and sacred environmental haven.

The park is surrounded by warm lowlands, with a cool, moist climate that creates a habitat suitable for animals found in most northern areas. It enables them to live far south of their primary ranges, since the weather in the park is more closely associated with that of the Northeastern United States. Therefore, park goers can expect to see species such as the Northern flying squirrel, the red squirrel, and the rock vole thriving in the park’s higher elevations.

Lastly, over 700 miles of streams in the park support fish, with over 50 native fish species, including the brook trout, residing within the confines. Don’t forget to look for salamanders, either! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been called the “Salamander Capital of the World.” That’s right, you can explore over 30 different types of salamander species in five families.

The Great Smoky Mountain’s Top Animals

  • White-tailed Deer
  • Bears
  • Bats
  • Bobcats
  • Elk
  • Fireflies
    • The synchronous firefly is just one of 19 species that live within the park. They are said to be the only species in the nation that can synchronize their flashing light patterns, according to the park service.

Viewing Locations

Elkmont: Fireflies

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Bears, bobcats, elk, white-tailed deer

Cades Cove: White-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys

Ober Gatlinburg (municipally sponsored zoo): otters, bobcats, birds

When Should You Go?

The best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is during the summer months of June, July, and August, as well as in the fall. July is the busiest month of the summer season, while October weekends are the second busiest as tourists descend to capture imagery of the foliage. Since the park has elevations that range from 875 feet to 6,000 feet, temperatures can vary greatly. The park is known to be a wet climate, which is why you will want to always have a raincoat packed with you.

For foliage hunting, the most abundant displays occur in mid-to-late September. Most annual snowfall happens from January to March, sometimes into April. Although the park is open year round, major attractions and camping sites are closed during the winter months.