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If you’ve ever asked anyone what they enjoy most about visiting Cades Cove, one of the more popular responses you’ll hear from people is that they love to venture into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see the wildlife up close and in their natural habitat. In the summertime, the animals are thriving, the rivers are filled with fish, and the grasses and forestry are lush and green. Here are a few of the different species you can expect to see meandering through Cades Cove this summer.
Black bears are well known by visitors who are familiar with Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains, so it’s natural that most people expect to view a bear or two when they visit the Cove. If you’re coming to the mountains specifically to see the bears, your best chance is in the morning or early evening hours, as these creatures are typically nocturnal. Though they tend to forage for food at night, bears can be active during the daytime as well. Bears climb trees, so don’t forget to look up!
One of the more common mammals that resides in the Cove is the white-tailed deer. These beautiful creatures are often seen in small groups, and can be spotted pretty easily during the summer months in the heart of the Cove, as the species prefers fields and meadows with shade trees during the hottest parts of the year. Does usually give birth in May or June, so it’s not uncommon to see fawns ambling about the Cove in late summer and early fall.
You might also see a flock of turkeys, spot an elusive ground hog, smell a stinky skunk, or hear the call of the coyote when you’re in Cades Cove. There are plenty of squirrels and chipmunks hopping about, and you’ll probably spy some foxes, raccoons and even a woodchuck if you look hard enough. Bird watchers should bring their binoculars, as there are variety of our feathered friends nesting in the Cove.
When to Visit
Cades Cove Loop Road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise to sunset every day with the exceptions of Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through September. During those months, the loop is only open to foot traffic and cyclists until 10 am, after which time it is opened up to vehicles as well.
How to View the Wildlife
The 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road offers motorists, cyclists, walkers, hikers and joggers some of the best scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From historic buildings and hiking trails, to towering trees and gently rolling creeks, the Cove offers a landscape like no other. Be sure to drive slowly if you decide to explore the loop by motor vehicle, as there are walkers and bike riders using the same route. In addition, the vehicles in front of you will likely make frequent stops if they see a particularly stunning vista or some wildlife wandering into view. Visitors to the Cove are encouraged to use the pull-offs when they spy something they want to take a closer or longer look at. Do not get out of your car if you see bears, do not pet any of the animals you encounter, and do not feed the wildlife. It usually takes anywhere from two to four hours to tour the Cove, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to see it all!
For more information about wildlife in Cades Cove, take a look at our 6 Essential Tips for Cades Cove Wildlife Viewing.