Be Bear Aware! My Personal Bear Encounter in the Smoky Mountains

*Be Bear Aware*

I recently had a very scary and very close encounter with a bear in the Smoky Mountains. This happened to me and it could easily happen to YOU!

Ernie and I visit the Smoky Mountains frequently when we are at our vacation rental home in Pigeon Forge, so we are pretty familiar with the different areas of Park. In other words, we aren't "newbies" in the Smokies. One of my favorite areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove. It's a very popular area known for its wildlife and it receives millions (yes, millions) of visitors every year.

One of my hobbies is photography and Cades Cove is the perfect place to experiment and learn more about my camera. It's not unusual for me to leave Asbury Cottage (alone - you'll find out why this is important info as you read on) before daylight and get to Cades Cove just as it opens at daybreak.

I typically spend most of the morning driving around the 11 mile loop in "The Cove", stopping at various spots taking photos and then head back to Pigeon Forge by noon. (Ernie's usually awake by then - haha! He loves to sleep in.) I prefer the early mornings in the Cove, because I love the photo ops the morning fog provides. The wildlife activity is usually better in the mornings too.

Check out my post on 5 Tips for Great Photos in Cades Cove!

 5 Tips for Great Photos in Cades Cove

Moving on with bear encounter story, as usual, I left Asbury Cottage before daylight that morning. There wasn't much traffic that morning and there was a lot of wildlife out in the fields. I drove the loop a few times and got some nice photos. 

 Missionary Baptist Church - Cades Cove

I cut across Hyatt Lane on my last loop and decided to take Rich Mountain Road across to Townsend, TN, instead of going back Laurel Creek Road. Rich Mountain Road is a one way, one lane dirt road that turns off to the right in Cades Cove near the Missionary Baptist Church.

Near the top of the mountain on Rich Mountain Road, there is a wide clearing to the right where you can see Cades Cove Methodist Church in the valley below. It's a popular spot for photographers.

This is where it gets interesting. Thanks for hanging with me so far...

So I stopped, left the truck door open (important information) and went around to the back of the truck to take a couple quick pictures - maybe a minute. I came back around the truck and stepped up on the truck’s running board to get in.


There was a BEAR right beside the front tire!! I hadn’t seen it as I was walking back to the truck (thank goodness!) because the truck door was open. It was standing right there between the driver’s door and the front bumper. Right below me!!! Close enough I could have touched it!!

After a few selective words of panic, I scrambled and fumbled to get the keys in the ignition so I could get the windows rolled up (another mistake I made).

All the while, the bear never moved and kept watching me. I thought for sure it was going to stand up against the door! Instead, it walked under my window, peered up at me a few seconds and then casually walked up onto the roadbank.

I was shaking soooooo bad! I am terrified of bears! I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I had seen it before I was up on the running board where I could quickly get inside and shut the door. I just don’t know.

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Some of you may have seen the pictures in the news recently (see Facebook post below) about the bear that got inside a pickup in Gatlinburg, TN, and completely destroyed the inside when it got trapped inside. It tore up all the seats, tore the door panels off - everything inside was torn to shreds.

That could have very easily been Ernie’s truck! Just a few more seconds and that bear could have been inside the truck. I didn’t hear it or see it until I was within inches of it. And it happened so quickly - within only a minute or so of me getting out of the truck to take two pictures.

Don’t be fooled!!!! This can happen to you! Lock your vehicles and keep your eyes and ears on your surroundings! It’s kinda funny now (at least my friends and family think it is), but I can tell you, I was scared to death when it happened!

Then, in the news this week is a horrible tragedy that happened very near to the location where my bear encounter occurred and only a few days later. I cannot say or even speculate that this is the same bear; however, this incident did happen far too close for comfort to the area where I encountered the bear on the same Rich Mountain Road.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - be aware of your surroundings if you are anywhere in bear territory. Things can happen so quickly that you hardly have a chance to react.

  •  Be aware of your surroundings
  •  DO NOT approach or disturb wildlife
  •  DO NOT feed wildlife
  •  DO NOT leave your vehicle unlocked, even for a minute, while you are in bear territory - whether it be inside the Smoky Mtn Park, Gatlinburg, or surrounding areas

Needless to say, I probably will no longer go alone to Cades Cove or anywhere in the GSMNP in the future. I had never experienced anything dangerous or felt afraid in the Park until this incident. It happened so fast and I was defenseless. Next time I go, I will be sure to have some defense, such as bear spray or an air horn. Both could be useful in other dangerous instances, so it might be handy to keep on hand in the vehicle or in my camera bag.

Many people have ask if I got a picture of it. Yes! I was able to get a couple pictures as it casually went up onto the roadbank. I had thrown my camera into the passenger seat when I saw it, as I was scrambling to get the keys to roll up the windows. As it walked away from under the truck window, I got my camera and quickly snapped a few photos as it was walking up into the woods.

They aren't award winners, but I'm surprised the photos aren't completely blurry considering how bad I was shaking! Here is the best one of the four pictures I was able to get.

 Bear on Rich Mountain Road near Cades Cove

Below are a few more tips for remaining safe around wildlife. Don't press your luck! Bad things happen when you're least expecting it.

Be Bear Aware

Would you like to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Check Availability and Book one of our Asbury Cottages in downtown Pigeon Forge, Tn. It’s only minutes from the GSMNP boundaries and about 40 minutes to Cades Cove. We keep our rates reasonable so families can enjoy a Smoky Mountain vacation. Rates are only $75-$120/night for 3 bedrooms/2 baths in a GREAT location!

Be sure to get on our newsletter mailing list to be notified of all the fun events and attractions happening in the Smokies!

And we also have a Facebook Smoky Mountain Travel Guide - Smoky Mountains Family Friendly Fun! Check us out!

Stay safe friends!

See you in the Cove,


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