Bears in Great Smoky Mountains | What You Need to Know

black-bear-heysmokiesWith the tourist season in full swing and a record number of visitors to the Smoky Mountains last year, the opportunities for an encounter with the Smoky’s most iconic symbol have increased as well. Approximately 1,800 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

There are a few things that visitors and locals alike need to know regarding black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains.

For many, spotting a bear is the most exciting part of their vacation in the Smokies. And rightly so, the majestic creatures are truly a sight to behold and their furry cuteness creates some sort of romantic notion about their gentleness. However, bears in the Great Smoky Mountains Park are wild creatures and can be dangerously unpredictable. At speeds of 30 mph, black bears can outrun, outclimb, and outswim humans.

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Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue-ridge-parkway-sign-heysmokiesDid you know that the Blue Ridge Parkway is connected to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? That’s right; another National Park is attached to the Smokies! The Blue Ridge Parkway begins (or ends) at milepost 469, a half mile south of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in North Carolina. The Parkway meanders from there along the mountain tops to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile long scenic drive through the Southern Appalachian highlands. The average speed limit on the Parkway is 45 mph. The Parkway has no red lights or intersections to slow traffic. All access to the Parkway is via on and off ramps connecting to nearby roads. There are no places to purchase fuel on the Parkway so plan carefully.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has access to camping, trails, waterfalls, and historic structures.

Blue Ridge Parkway Campgrounds

Otter Creek @ Mile Post 61 This campground has sites for 45 tents and 24 RV trailers. Facilities currently include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks but no showers or hook-ups. Area hikes include Trail of Trees, Otter Creek, Otter Lake Loop and James River Canal Trails.

Peaks of Otter @ Mile Post 86 This campground has sites for 90 tents and 53 trailers or RVs, water, comfort stations with flush toilets and cold water sinks but no showers or hook-ups. Area hikes include Sharp Top, Elk Run, Harkening Hill and Johnson Farm Trails.

Rocky Knob @ Mile Post 167 This campground has sites for 81 tents and 28 trailer or RVs, restrooms, trailer dumping stations, and a campfire circle that accommodates up to 150 campers. For the more adventurous, backcountry camping is permitted at the designated site in Rock Castle Gorge. A permit is required and can be obtained from the Rocky Knob Campground by calling 540-745-9664 from May-October and calling 540-745-9668 during the off season.

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Blue Ridge Parkway

For those in primitive camping areas, keep in mind the following: camping and campfires are only allowed in designated areas, only dead firewood may be gathered for fuel, pack out all trash, do not use soap or shampoo in any streams, and toilet facilities must be at least 200 feet from water supplies. Area hikes include Rockcastle Gorge, Black Ridge, Rocky Knob Picnic Area and Round Meadow Creek Trails.

Doughton Park @ Mile Post 241 This campground has 110 campsites and 25 trailer sites, 4 comfort stations, and a campfire circle at the campground. Area hikes include Bluff Mountain, and Fodder Stack Trails.

Julian Price Park @ Mile Post 297 This campground has 129 tent sites (2 handicap sites) and 68 trailer sites, 6 comfort stations (1 handicap accessible). Area hikes include Green Knob, Boone Fork, Price Lake, Gwyn Memorial and Tanawha Trails. For boat rental info call 828-963-2292 or visit blueridgeparkway.

Linville Falls @ Mile Post 316 This campground has 50 tent and 20 RV sites which sit on the banks of the Linville River. It is the Parkway’s smallest, most popular campground and the only developed site on the Parkway that allows group camping. Area hikes include Flat Rock, Camp Creek, River Bend, Duggers Creek, and Linville River Bridge Trails

Mt. Pisgah @ Mile Post 408 This campground has 70 tent and 70 RV sites and shower facilities are available. The campground is the highest, coolest and most secluded on the Parkway. The campground is located in Flat Laurel Gap. Area hikes include Buck Spring, Mount Pisgah, Picnic Area Loop and Frying Pan Mountain Trails.

Camping is $16 for each site. Reservations for ALL campgrounds can be made online at recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking

There are numerous trails suitable for hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Find out about trails near you by stopping at a Ranger Station or Visitor Center for information. Trail conditions may change suddenly and unexpectedly. Bear activity, rain or thunder storms and downed trees may temporarily close trails.

At a minimum be sure to carry water, a raincoat or poncho, a warm hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first aid kit. It is recommended that you hike with another person. No permit is required for hiking.

One of the most daunting tasks facing hikers is choosing a trail. Start by deciding on what you would like to see. Waterfalls? Old-growth forests? Endless views? Then decide how far you would like to hike. It can be as easy as that!

There are over 369 miles of trails to choose from along the Blue Ridge Parkway! The Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail are two long distance trails that follow closely with stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sections of these trails can be hiked in a day, or for the more adventurous, over a number of days.

Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfall Hikes

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Crabtree Falls at Mile Post 339

Remember to always take caution while enjoying waterfalls around the Parkway. Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls and use extreme caution when walking along riverbanks. The rocks are slippery due to mist and algae. Never dive or jump into the water. Submerged rocks, trees or debris could be immediately below the surface of the water.

Here is a list of popular hikes with waterfalls along the Parkway:

Linville Falls @ Mile Post 360 Linville Falls has four different overlooks to properly appreciate the falls with two main hiking trails. Both begin at the Linville Falls Visitor Center and pass through remnants of a virgin hemlock forest mixed with other familiar tree species such as white pine, oaks, hickory, and birch. A colorful and varied display of wildflowers decorates the trails in spring. Red and golden leaves in fall beautifully contrast with the soothing green of hemlocks. The Linville Falls trails range in difficulty from moderate to strenuous.

Looking Glass Falls @ Mile Post 411 Looking Glass Falls is one of the most symmetrical waterfalls in western North Carolina. The name comes from Looking Glass Rock which resembles a wintertime mirror, or “looking glass,” of sunlight as water freezes on its side and reflects the sun.

Crabtree Falls @ Mile Post 339 At the base of the 2.5 mile loop trail is spectacular Crabtree Falls, where water cascades over a 60-foot rock cliff. Many types of ferns and wildflowers thrive in the hollow benefiting from the fall’s cool spray. Originally, these falls were known as Murphy’s Falls. The National Park Service changed the name to Crabtree Falls when the Parkway was built in the 1930’s.

Graveyard Fields Falls @ Mile Post 419 The name “Graveyard Fields” originates from a time when a great windstorm felled hundreds of spruce and fir trees in the area. The moss covered stumps resemble graves.

Skinny Dip Falls @ Mile Post 417  Skinny Dip Falls features a swimming hole at the bottom of the cascades. These falls lie along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Falling Water Cascades @ Mile Post 83 Near Peaks of Otter, the trail is lined with rhododendrons creating a beautiful hike setting.

Apple Orchard Falls @ Mile Post 78 These falls have a viewing platform directly underneath the falls creating a refreshing shower during the summer months.

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Be mindful of your picnic supplies or may have an unexpected guest!

The Blue Ridge Parkway has something for everyone. Here at HeySmokies we love to pack a picnic basket and drive until we find a beautiful spot for lunch. Critters love your “pickanick” basket, so please be extra careful with your picnic supplies! Be mindful with your picnic basket or you may have some unexpected guests!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Welcomes 14.1 Million Visitors In 2021.

2021 Smoky Mountain attendance crushes old record!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Welcomes 14.1 Million Visitors In 2021. GSMNP experienced the busiest year on record with 14,137,812 visitors. This new record crushed the 2019 record by more than 1.5 million visits and 2020 visitation by more than 2 million visits. As the park has increasingly become a year-round destination eight monthly visitation records were set during winter and spring months in 2021. 

In the last decade, park visitation has increased by 57%,” said Acting Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “While increasing visitation presents complex challenges, we are honored to care for a park that is special to so many people. We remain committed to developing innovative solutions to provide the necessary support for visitor services and resource protection.” 

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Smoky Mountain Historic Walker Sisters Cabin Closed To Public

Smoky Mountain Historic Walker Sisters Cabin Closed To Public due to safety concerns. Built in the 1800’s the cabin was occupied by the Walker Sisters until 1964. The sisters were allowed to keep their childhood home for over three decades after the national park was established. The sisters home was often a destination for park visitors who continued there primitive and pioneer like lifestyle despite the dramatic changes in the world around them.

Park crews are concerned about recent movement around the chimney in the two-story cabin. Noticeable cracks and buckling around the stone masonry need to be repaired and stabilized to prevent further movement. The cabin is now closed to all use. 

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Smoky Mountain Ice Curls

Ice curls are a common site on cold morning hikes.Smoky Mountain ice curls, whorls, tufts, feathers and mounds—all forms that natural ice can take on the ground under the right conditions. In an era of energy conservation, double-paned (or even triple-paned) windows, and thickly insulated homes and buildings — most of us no longer see ice in any of its patterns on our windows. But if you go hiking this time of year or even just venture into your backyard at the right time, you may well see ice curls.

Ice curls are varying shapes of ice that form on the ground under these conditions: typically a recent rain that has not been sufficiently absorbed into the soil, followed by a quick freeze, usually overnight. Our area is perfect for the formation of ice curls because our Tennessee red clay doesn’t absorb moisture very readily, especially when cold weather has made it even more dense than normal. Then, when a fast freeze occurs, the water left on the ground crystallizes into ice curls. The next morning as you are looking out your insulated window, these ice curls, which can take many shapes, may appear in the distance like tufts of cotton that, during the winter night, have miraculously bloomed in our yards, fields and woodland margins.

Often the ice curls wrap around blades of grass or the woody stems of other plants. In this case they appear like tufts or small white mounds—hence, their cotton-like appearance. But on closer inspection they are actually a collection of icy curls or feathers that have built on one another as the ground water gradually transformed into ice. Although less conspicuous, individual ice curls may also be seen on the ground. But it’s up close that the beauty of ice curls becomes clear—delicate, fragile structures of thinly formed, curling ice—nature’s own miniature ice sculptures, which disappear with just a touch from the sun!

So look for them on your winter walks. You’ll see them, especially in the mornings, after a recent rain or thaw followed by a quick freeze. Later in the day, if the sun has come out, they’ll disappear quickly in the sunny areas but will linger on in the shade. They’re worth your stopping and kneeling down to see them.

Ice curls can be found nearly anywhere from your backyard to the highest elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains. Mount LeConte is always a great place to find ice and snow this time of year. Meandering down any of the trails will afford a chance to find ice curls. Let’s get outdoors and see what we can discover!

HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.

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