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From Snake Bites to Bear Attacks - Just How Safe Are the Smoky Mountains?

Updated on August 27, 2011

Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains stretch from Tennessee to North Carolina. Established in 1934, under President Roosevelt's program, it has a massive 521,000 acres for wild animals to call home. Among the animals living in the mountains are the black bear many species of snakes.

Camping in the Smokies has a lot to offer. There are waterfalls, hiking trails, campgrounds, streams to fish in, whitewater rafting, and beauty for the photographer all around. However, when visiting the Smokies, black bears and snakes are a large part of the parks ecosystem and they can be a real threat, even fatal. So just how dangerous is it to spend time in the Smokies with these threats among us?

Black Bears

Black bears are native to the Smokies area. There are a number of open viewing areas where they can be seen from a safe distance. Although much less aggressive than their western cousin, the Grizzly, they can become dangerous animals under the right circumstances.

Black bears feed mostly on plants and fish. Attacks have come when campers or hikers have come too close to a bear and her cubs or when food is involved. Black bears are also feeders of opportunity. That means they will forage campsites and trash cans looking for a free meal. This often puts the bears close to people, therefore putting them in danger.

The Smokies has a very strict set of laws on approaching wildlife, especially the black bear. This is to protect the park visitors as well as the wildlife. When camping or hiking in the mountains, it is important to follow the rules and posts by the Park Service. The Park allows visitors to carry bear spray which can assist in warding off an impending attack in the event that the bear has gotten too close.

It is also important to follow rules about securing all food and keeping a safe distance from the animal. There is no evidence that black bears are dangerous or "bad" on the whole. We just have to take precautions and make sure we treat them with respect.

Snakes in the Mountains

The Smoky Mountains are full of a variety of snakes - 23 is the official number reported by the park. Out of those, only 2 species are venomous: the timber rattler and the copperhead.

To date, there has never been a fatality in the park due to a bite from a snake. However, a bite from a poisonous snake can cause the loss of a limb or vital flesh with life altering repercussions. Most people do not see these snakes on their visit to the park. In fact, more people have an encounter with the black bear than they do with snakes in the park.

Safety Starts with Us

It does not appear that the threat of black bear attacks or snake bites is a serious concern in the Great Smoky Mountains. There are precautions that should be considered any time you venture into the wild:

1. Do not go alone.

2. Take bear spray with you and know how to use it.

3. Do not feed wild animals or attempt to handle them.

4. Follow the park rules at all times and report any issues that you encounter. If you notice a bear that continues to try to get too close, report it to park rangers immediately. This could be a bear that has lost its fear of people and will become a problem.

5. When walking, take a stick so that you can move it in front of you for any snakes in the pathway.

6. Be careful around rocks and logs; these are where snakes live. Do not put your hands in these places. You never know where a snake may be hiding.

7. Teach your children these same rules.

The Great Smoky Mountains are as safe as any other place. Get out and enjoy them!


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