The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed certain trails, backcountry campsites and shelters due to bear activity. Additional bear warnings have been issued for some areas.
If you are enjoying the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer, be especially careful in observing the black bears. About 1,500 black bears call the park home. It is a great place to see them in the wild and one of the reasons so many visitors come to the park. Bears are very active this time of year, foraging for food, raising cubs and mating.
There have been several recent reports of encounters with black bears in which the bears did not run away. While there have been no bear attacks, the GSMNP closed off certain areas as a precaution. Such closures are not unusual this time of year.
GSMNP trail, backcountry campsites and shelter closures due to bear activity:
- Spence Field Shelter
- Icewater Spring Shelter
- Backcountry Campsites 11,13, 19, 20,113
- Curry Mountain Trail
- Meigs Creek Trail
- Meigs Mountain Trail
- Bull Head Trail
Bear Warnings issued for GSMNP trails and shelters (they remain open):
- Appalachian Trail for Shuckstack to Doe Knob
- Laurel Falls Trail
- Davenport Gap Shelter
The Great Smoky Mountains Association advises that bears can be quite hungry in June and July because food sources such as blackberries, raspberries and cherries are not yet ripe. From late July through November, bears prepare for the winter by feasting on berries and nuts, comprising about 85% of their diet.
“Also, mothers with cubs over a year old will begin to kick them out from her guard,” the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) said. “Many young black bears, that were born last year are currently being spotted alone and a little bit confused until they figure out how to survive on their own.”
The organization produced a great video about hiking safely in the Smokies.
Visitors to the park can educate themselves on black bear behavior and should learn what to do if they see a black bear.
“Male Black Bears will also exhibit territorial behavior and MAY be aggressive if encountered in the woods,” warned the GSMA. “Be alert, and cautious, and if you see a male bear, turn around and begin to leave the area until it’s out of sight. Remember love is in the air, and it’s a time when black bears begin to mate with females. They will defend their territory during this time, and that can include chasing and tailing humans out from their turf.”
More than 9.4 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2010, the highest visitation of any of the 58 national parks.
Considering the frequency with which visitors view black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, encounters with black bears resulting in injuries or fatalities are rare. In 2010, park rangers euthanized a bear after it bit a visitor ‘s foot on the Laurel Falls Trail. The only recorded fatal attack by a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park happened in May of 2000 near Elkmont.
Call the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at (865) 436-1297 for the most current list of closures and warnings, or see the park’s list of closures.