Are There Grizzly Bears in the Smokies?

Between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina, lies the Smoky Mountains. The national park is home to dozens of hiking trails and historic structures you can visit, but there’s also an array of wildlife that can be carefully viewed from a distance. It’s pretty well-known that the black bear is the symbol of this region of the country, but are there grizzly bears in the Great Smoky Mountains?

The mountain range is part of the Appalachian mountains and is made up of 187,000 acres of old-growth forest. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also the most visited national park in the United States.

Are there grizzly bears in the Great Smoky Mountains?

There are no grizzly bears living in the Smokies or anywhere even remotely near the Great Smoky Mountains. The closest grizzly bear population is in western Wyoming, over 1500 miles away.

So if you’re visiting the Smokies soon and are wondering what type of bears to expect, the only type of bear you might see is the American black bear.

Are grizzly bears bigger than black bears?

Grizzly bear on meadows
Grizzly bear on meadows by Robert Balog from Pixabay

Grizzly bears are typically much larger than black bears. Adult grizzly bears can weigh between 700 and 1200 pounds, with males being larger than females.

While adult black bears will weigh between 175 and 500 pounds, with males also weighing more than females. There are instances where male black bears weigh close to 1,000 pounds, and male grizzlies weigh up to 1,700 pounds.

black bear in the Smoky Mountains
black bears in the Smoky Mountains by Peregrine Photography on Unsplash

In general, though, black bears are noticeably smaller than black bears. They are also dangerous wild animals that should never be approached.

How many black bears are in the smoky mountains?

There are currently an estimated 1500 to 1600 black bears living and breeding in the Smoky Mountains. This is the largest protected area in the eastern half of the country where black bears can live in the wild.

The current population estimate is the largest number ever recorded to the bear management efforts of our national park system. There are sometimes nuisance bears that must be moved or killed, but the bears are breeding at a higher rate than the bears that must be removed so the population is increasing.

Are black bears in the Smoky Mountains aggressive?

Black bears aren’t naturally aggressive, but if provoked they can become aggressive. It is absolutely crucial for your safety and the bears, that you never feed or approach a black bear in the Smokies.

Once they begin associating their food with humans, they can easily fall into the “nuisance bear.” At this point, a bear may need to be put down or relocated in order to keep everyone safe.

In addition, a mother protecting her cubs can become aggressive towards a human. While black bears are one of the least aggressive types of bears, occasional attacks can and do happen. Black bears are wild animals that are dangerous.

How common are bear attacks in the Smoky Mountains?

Black bear attacks in the smoky mountains are uncommon, but that’s not to say they don’t occur. There was a recent attack where a camper was believed to have been possibly killed by a bear.

A 240-pound bear was shot and killed when it was found scavenging the remains of a camper, but it was unclear if the bear killed the main or not. Either way, once the bear had tasted human flesh it had to be put down. Many experts say that oftentimes scuffles with bears are started by dogs.

How often do you see a bear in the Smoky Mountains?

Seeing a bear in the smokies is very common, especially if you know where to go. Sometimes you don’t even have to enter the national park, there are bears roaming around in the city of Gatlinburg.

I’ve visited the Smoky Mountains dozens of times and more times than not I didn’t see a bear. Black bears aren’t actively trying to see, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Most bears would rather remain unnoticed by people. If you explore the right parts of the area you can give yourself a good chance of seeing a bear.

Where to see bears in the smoky mountains

Bears in Smoky Mountains
Spring is Bear Season on Smoky Mountain | image by N Vision Photos via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Just a few years ago I visited with my family and we saw a young black bear right off of our balcony, and then again walking around the hotel parking lot.

There have also been instances where black bears will actually walk down the strip in Gatlinburg. This is dangerous because a bear like this has no fear of humans.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of seeing a black bear try visiting somewhere like Cades Cove on your trip to the Smoky Mountains. Another option is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.


There are over 1500 bears living in the Smoky Mountains, but none of them are of the grizzly variety. Grizzly bears only live in a few U.S. states like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Nowhere near Tennessee or North Carolina where the Smoky Mountains are located.