Bring Your Binoculars! Here are the 3 Best Spots to Catch a View of Wildlife

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is teeming with wildlife, from large mammals and birds of prey to small forest critters and songbirds. With some careful planning, you can view some amazing wildlife in the Smokies and enjoy your beautiful surroundings while doing it. If snapping that perfect picture of a deer or black bear is only one of your things to do in the Smokies, book one of our cabins in Gatlinburg and get away from life’s busyness and connect with the great outdoors. Here are three of the top places for wildlife in the Smokies.

Cades Cove is a Must-See

The first location is one many people’s itineraries for things to do in the Smokies: Cades Cove. This amazing 11-mile loop has beautiful views, wildlife, and interesting history from its early settlers. Arrive as early as 6 a.m. to maximize your chances at seeing animals, as bears, deer, and otters are most active early in the morning. Make sure to keep your distance and never approach one of these wild animals.

Better yet, ditch the car and cycle around the loop on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, when Cades Cove is closed to cars. Doing so makes for a beautiful ride with much more flexibility, plus you can skip the traffic and help the environment. The quiet of a morning ride also means animals are less likely to be scared away, plus you can listen for the knocking sound of woodpeckers and the splash of river otters.

Spot One of the Park’s Reintroduced Elk

Cross to the other side of the Smokies to Cataloochee, home to the Smokies’ elk population. After being hunted to extinction in the 19th century, these majestic mammals were successfully reintroduced in 2001, one of several success stories that also includes otters and red wolves. Because of their size, they can be enjoyed safely from a distance.

One of the few open areas in the Smokies, Cataloochee is a great space to watch deer, flocks of wild turkeys, and perhaps even a black bear. All of these animals should be enjoyed without approaching them or trying to attract their attention, both of which could cause harm to you or them.

Mt. Leconte Is a Classic Hike with Great Birding

Although most people think of mammals when it comes to wildlife in the Smokies, there are around 240 species of birds in the park. Because there are so many types of forest in the park, you could visit a different area every day and see totally new birds, which is why it is regarded as one of the top bird-watching spots in the U.S.

A great way to see a variety of birds is the hike to Mt. Leconte. There are four different trails that reach the summit and all are good for woodpeckers. The Alum Cave trail is home to a nest of beautiful peregrine falcons, one of only two known in Tennessee. Early or late in the day, you might also spot one of several kinds of owls.

Pack a pair of binoculars or a good telephoto lens and put the amazing diversity of the park on your list of things to do in the Smokies. And make sure you reserve one of our cabins in Gatlinburg for a great base for an early start.