Smoky Mountains National Park Closes Select Trails As Bears Prepare for Winter — What to Know

“Generally bears are solitary, however, during the fall, several bears may be seen feeding in close proximity,” the NPS wrote.

Sign, Great Entrance sign to Smoky Mountains National Park

Jerry Whaley/Getty Images

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed several trails due to black bears feed in the area, preparing for hibernation.

The park temporarily closed both the Gatlinburg Trail, between Gatlinburg and the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and the Twin Creeks Trail, between Gatlinburg and the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center, according to the National Park Service. The trails were closed both for the safety of park goers as well as to allow the black bears to prepare for their winter hibernation by feeding on acorns undisturbed.  

During this time, the bears may travel more than 30 miles to feed on particular oak trees.

“Generally bears are solitary, however, during the fall, several bears may be seen feeding in close proximity,” the NPS wrote in its advisory. “They will often feed for more than 12 hours a day and can be concentrated in areas where abundant food sources are found. During this time period, normally wary bears may act aggressively to defend these areas.”

If hikers see a black bear, the NPS recommends they keep their distance and use binoculars, a telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to see them. In fact, it is illegal to purposely get within 150 feet of a black bear. 

If a bear does start to follow a park goer, the NPS said they should change direction. But if the bear doesn’t stop, the park goer needs to stand their ground, and if it gets closer, people should talk loudly or shout and act aggressively to intimidate the bear. Travelers carrying bear spray should discharge it when the bear comes within 20 yards.

About 1,500 bears are estimated to live in the park, which sits between North Carolina and Tennessee, and can weigh more than 600 pounds in the fall when preparing for winter.

Beyond the trails that are closed, there are plenty of ways to see and stay in Smoky Mountains National Park from luxurious glamping camps to exploring its relatively untouched landscape that earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.

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