Top 3 Places to See Smoky Mountain Wildlife When You Visit Gatlinburg

A Smoky Mountain black bear cub in a tree.

No trip to Gatlinburg, TN is complete without seeing some of the area’s signature wildlife! When you’re in town for a tournament or event at Rocky Top Sports World, you will definitely want to venture into the Great Smoky Mountains to catch a glimpse of the national park’s beautiful animals. To help you make the most of your time in Gatlinburg, we have put together a handy guide to the top three places for viewing Smoky Mountain wildlife.

1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Located off of Traffic Light #8 in downtown Gatlinburg, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the most convenient spots for wildlife viewing in the national park. This 5.5-mile, one-way, loop road is known for attracting black bears, who sometimes cross the road in search of the area’s plentiful berries, nuts, and acorns. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is also a great location for spying wild turkey, who seem largely unphased by the many cars driving by.

2. Cades CoveA white-tailed deer fawn in a field with flowers.

When it comes to Smoky Mountain wildlife viewing, it’s hard to beat Cades Cove! Unlike much of the national park, which is densely forested, Cades Cove is a wide open valley where numerous critters can be seen scampering around in broad daylight. The cove also boasts an 11-mile, one-way, loop road, which makes it easy to admire the animals right from your car. Read on to learn about the stunning creatures that call Cades Cove home and the best times to find them.

White-tailed deer are most active in Cades Cove during cooler times of the day, such as the early morning or late evening. Deer are especially fond of grazing when it is foggy outside or soon after it has rained.

Black bears are far and away the most popular critters in Cades Cove. As you drive along the loop road, make sure that someone in your car is keeping their eyes on the trees to look for bears. If a bear is spotted in the valley, you’ll likely know it, because traffic typically comes to a standstill as people stop their vehicles to get a good look.

Aside from the winter, black bears remain out and about throughout the year, with late spring and early fall being especially good times for bear viewing. Bears usually like to search for food in the morning (6 – 10 a.m.) and the late afternoon (3 – 7 p.m.).

Pileated woodpeckers are often seen in Cades Cove around Hyatt Lane and Gum Swamp Pond. Be sure to listen for their distinctive call!

Otters are known to splash around in Abrams Creek, which is situated along the trail to Abrams Falls. Way back in the 1800s, the Cherokee called their settlement in Cades Cove “Tsiya’hi,” which means “Otter Place.” Otters were driven to local extinction for many years in the Smokies, but they were successfully reintroduced to the park in the 80s and 90s.

A herd of elk in the Smoky Mountains.3. Cataloochee

If you have time for a day trip to the North Carolina side of the national park, we recommend doing some Smoky Mountain wildlife viewing in Cataloochee. This picturesque valley is the number one spot for seeing elk in the Smokies. Although they were hunted to the point of local extinction in the 1800s, the National Park Service launched a mission to reintroduce these gorgeous animals into Cataloochee in 2001. Today, there are over 200 elk in the national park!

When you view elk or any other animals in the Smoky Mountains, make sure that you always stay 150 feet away from them. If your presence is making an animal change its behavior, you are standing too close. Binoculars or cameras with telephoto lenses are great ways to get up-close views of wildlife without actually getting up-close.

About Rocky Top Sports WorldMountain views at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg.

Situated minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg, Rocky Top Sports World is one of the very best tournament destinations in the U.S. With seven fields, six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, and team rooms, our 80-acre athletic campus has everything you need for an incredible sports event. To see a complete list of our upcoming tournaments, browse the Rocky Top Sports World Events Calendar!