Great Smoky Mountains National Park | WILDLIFE VIEWING

Elk at Cataloohee

Elk at Cataloohee

Every minute spent in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a minute spent with the potential to see wildlife: some small, common animals and some large, rare predators. Of course the main draw is bear and elk, but there are over 60 other mammals that live in the park including deer, turkey, otters, beaver, raccoon, foxes, coyotes, and even bobcats. Most of these animals can pop up anywhere and at any time. You are as likely to see a bear along the road as you are deep into the backcountry. I spent fifteen days in the park exploring every region and hiked nearly 100 miles of trails and the closest I came to a bear was when I was stuck in a traffic jam caused by idiots who stopped in the middle of the main road to take a photo of a bear hundreds of yards away in the woods. Some of those people may have just driven in from a day at Dollywood for all I know. Seeing many of the animals is just a matter of luck.

Deer and elk are another story because they like large meadows, and there aren’t too many of those around. The best places to visit is the fields at either Cataloochee (elk) or Cades Cove (deer). I saw plenty of Elk at Cataloochee; the Rangers say the morning or evening hours are the best time to see them.

Deer at Cades Cove

Deer at Cades Cove

Oddly enough, my closest brush with wildlife came on Heintooga Road (actually part of the Blue Ridge Parkway) on my way to the Balsam Mountain Region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the side of the road just before the Balsam Mountain Picnic Area was a large elk sitting all by himself.

Elk near the Balsam Mountain region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Elk near the Balsam Mountain region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Last updated on February 12, 2021
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