How Close Can I Get to Bears in Great Smoky Mountains Park?

The general rule is to stay 50 yards away from bears. Never feed wild animals because it may cause them to lose their fear of humans. Watch this video
A bear stops traffic in Cades Cove

A momma bear and her cub stop traffic in Cades Cove. Photo by Edd Prince via Wikimedia Commons

While visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it's almost a sure thing that you'll encounter wildlife. There are more than 1,600 black bears inside the park that spans 816 square miles, which is approximately two bears for every square mile. That's really dense. For comparison, in Yellowstone National Park, there are an estimated 150 grizzlies that range fully or mostly in the park that spans 3,468 square miles. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that spans more than 34,000 square miles, there are an estimated 674-839 grizzlies, according to 2014 National Park Service numbers.

How close can (or should) you get to these animals? National parks are not zoos and these animals are not teddy bears.

The park rule is to stay 50 yards away from bears. Getting any closer is illegal in the park. Never feed bears or other wild animals because it may cause them to lose their fear of humans.

What to Do If You Encounter a Bear

In the event that you run into a bear, you want to build as much distance between you and the bear as possible. Back away slowly. If the bear starts to change its behavior, like it stops eating or paws the ground, you are too close to it. Do not approach it. Stay alert, keeping your eyes on the bear.

What to Do If a Bear Gets Close to You

If the bear starts to follow you and continues to trail you, ignore your natural instinct to run. Don't run. Stand your ground, says the National Park Services rangers. The rangers also recommend you shout at it, speak loudly and make yourself look as large as possible. You can also throw objects at the bear, as long as it is not food.

Watch this video to learn what to do in a bear encounter.