From tiny bugs to the mighty elk, the animals in the Smokies come in all shapes and all sizes. The diversity extends to all manner of critters. The protection that these animals are afforded inside the national park allow you to get closer than you will be able to in most places around the country.
There are rules and regulations concerning your interaction but it comes down to one concept: You are in the animals house, be a thoughtful visitor.
- Do not feed the animals.
- Do not tease or harm the animals.
- In the case of elk and black bear, you must stay 50 yards or more from these larger mammals. They are big animals and they can hurt you. The rule of thumb is: if you are close enough that your proximity changes the behavior of the elk or bear then you are too close.
Black Bear – This is the symbolic animal of the Smokies. Found in all parts of the National Park, this animals provides hours of entertainment for people that have the good fortune to see one. Be sure to give the bear plenty of room and enjoy them from a distance. During the springs, if you are out early enough, Cades Cove is the best place to see lots of bears. During the fall of the year, aiming for early evening in Cades Cove will probably allow you to see the bears feeding out of the trees.
Synchronous Fireflies – One of the most interesting things that you will find in the Smoky Mountains are the synchronous fireflies in the Elkmont area. For some reason (scientists are not sure why) the fireflies in this area of the national park begin to blink in unison with each other. There is only one other place on the planet (Thailand) where this phenomenon occurs.
Elk – This has been the most successful reintroduction into the Smokies. The elk were brought back into this area in 2001 and now there are thriving herds of elk in both the Cherokee area and the Cataloochee value. Elk are the largest mammal (and therefore animal) in the National Park. During the rut – their mating season – you can spend an entire day listening to these majestic animals as the bulls court the cows.
Whitetail Deer – For the hunter or just the lover of wildlife, the chance to see a whitetail deer up close and personal is breathtaking. In the Smokies, the best place to see deer is in Cades Cove. The deer use the fields in the cove to graze and it is usual to see tens of them during one trip around the loop road. During the spring you will even get to see fauns frolicking in the forests, while later in the year you can see the spikes challenging each other in the fields.