Great Smoky Mountains National Parks

Park Reminds Visitors how to Safely View Wildlife

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors to exercise caution as they view and photograph wildlife to best protect both the animals and themselves. Park Rangers have recently received numerous reports of increased interactions between visitors and wildlife such as bears, white-tailed deer, and elk.

Park Rangers encourage visitors to use binoculars, spotting scopes, or cameras with telephoto lenses to best enjoy wildlife. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park. If approached by wildlife, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. Often animals simply need adequate space to cross a trail, road, or public area as they travel through the park in search of forage and cover.

“Wild animals typically avoid visitor interaction unless they become food-conditioned,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “If an animal starts approaching and threatening human safety, we have several proactive steps we take to effectively manage the situation that bests protects the animal and the public. However, if the negative behavior escalates, our options in dealing with the animal quickly become limited.”

Biologists recently removed the antlers of a large bull elk that routinely spends time in high use, public areas in fields adjacent to the Oconluftee Visitor Center, Mountain Farm Museum, and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Dominant bull elk typically defend their territory during the fall breeding season, known as the rut, by charging and sparring with competitors. Unfortunately, this 800-pound elk charged several visitors posing significant to public safety. Now that the rut is essentially over, the elk’s aggressive behavior should lessen and by removing the elk’s antlers which are annually shed, biologists further reduced the risk for harm to visitors.

Park officials have taken numerous steps over the past several years to prevent nuisance wildlife behavior by improving the design of bear-proof garbage cans and sanitation schedules, and promoting public awareness in our visitor centers and through our website and social media. The Park also created several volunteer programs including the Elk Bugle Corp and Oconaluftee Field Rovers, who provide on-site, timely information to park visitors so they may safely view wildlife. As a result of these efforts, wildlife biologists have relocated far fewer bears than in the 1980s and managed fewer nuisance animals.

For more information on how to safely view wildlife, please visit the park’s website at

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Blue Ridge Parkway

It took millions of years to create and shape North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains.  And, thanks to our unique mountain climate, no place on Earth has such incredible biological diversity.

In 1934, the government preserved 800 square miles of this enchanted land and called it the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Today, visitors from across the globe come to enjoy the Park’s 700 miles of rivers and streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, 200,000 acres of virgin forests and a protected environment for plants and animals once in danger of extinction.

The Great Smokies is the most visited national park and is recognized as the most biologically diverse place on the planet, an international biosphere reserve, a world heritage site, and a national heritage area.

Out of the Great Depression came a great vision to connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  That vision became the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Blue Ridge Parkway paved a new future for the South, which was disproportionately affected by the Depression.

Today, 75 years later, the Parkway remains a unique American treasure we can all enjoy – 469 slowly flowing miles of ridge tops, parks, tunnels, overlooks and views that are simply over-the-top.

The Great Smoky Mountains National park, the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, our unique mountain heritage and our efforts to preserve our precious national resources are why the U.S. Congress designated the Western North Carolina mountains among the select group of national heritage areas.

Known as the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, both the public and private sector join in the mission of conserving our mountain heritage, cultural assets, and national resources.

America’s most scenic highway and the nation’s most visited national park – national treasures preserved for your children and your children’s children to enjoy.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 365 days a year and entrance to the park is free of charge.  This beautiful park has over 800 miles of hiking trails, plus camping, fishing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and auto touring are also popular activities.

When traveling in the Smoky Mountains, do NOT trust your GPS or navigation system.  Please see below for park maps and directions.  For more information about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visit or select a link below: