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Thank goodness the Appy Lodge doesn’t serve porridge.
Joel and Leah Pike had come to Gatlinburg – at least in part – to see a bear.
They’d gone to Cades Cove and hiked in the mountains, driven all over, but hadn’t had any luck in spotting one of the elusive creatures.
Then, after a dinner show, they returned to the Appy Lodge where the South Alabama couple planned to grab a cup of the lodge’s famous hot apple cider before heading out for an evening near the fire pits.
That’s when irony walked through the lobby door in the form of a 400-500 pound black bear. The Pikes hadn’t found what they were looking for. In fact, what they were looking for had found the Pikes.
“We go in and it’s just me and (Leah) and a young man working the counter,” Joel explained. “About that time the back doors open up and a 400 or 500 pound black bear comes walking in. I said, ‘There’s a black bear.’ But I’m always joking and she didn’t believe me.”
“She said, ‘Oh shut up,’” Joel said. “She came around me and said ‘Oh, it is a black bear.’ And she took off like a scared rabbit.”
“The guy working the counter said ‘Hey, there’s a bear over there,’ and I said, ‘I know.’”
Joel, who said he and Leah visit the Smokies several times a year, said the bear wasn’t aggressive but clearly wanted some of that cider.
“Their apple cider is great,” Joel said. Everybody loves it.”
The bear sniffed around, checked out the lobby Christmas tree and then went back to the doors.
Some guests are oblivious to the black bear visitor
“The bear wasn’t aggressive. One time he looked over there towards me and I looked over at the doors behind me. I was watching him. I was just kind of startled. I knew I had the doors behind me all I had to do to step out the door and lock it behind me.”
Joel said the bear appeared to be playing with the automatic doors, making them open and close. He went out briefly and came back in, clearly smelling the cider.
“The doors opened up pretty fast, but he acted like he knew they would and it didn’t bother him,” he said. “Bear was healthy. He was fat. Nobody got hurt. He didn’t do any damage.”
Joel said the bear was near the elevator doors but luckily no one came down while the bear was in the lobby.
Finally the bear stepped outside again and the clerk quickly slid over and turned off the electric doors, essentially locking the bear out.
Meanwhile, several other lodge guests had been out at the fire pits and rocking chairs, oblivious to the lobby visitor.
“I poked my head out and said there’s a bear in here,” Joel said. “Everybody came running in, wanting to see the bear.”
For his part, Joel wished he’d shot video instead of the pictures he got with his phone, but he did enjoy something of celebrity status within the hotel, sharing pictures and his story. Then, when he shared his post on social media he went viral.
Turns out, people love a bear story.
“After that the hotel was abuzz, there must have been 50 people down in the lobby,” he said. “They said he was over at Flapjack’s Pancake House going through the dumpster.”
Appy Lodge hotel guests go on ‘bear watch’
Word got out that it wasn’t the first time the bear had visited the Appy Lodge. Joel said the next day the manager told him the bear had come in the previous week as well which left many of Joel’s fellow bear enthusiasts hoping for another encore.
“The next night, it’s like nobody went nowhere,” he said. “They stayed at the hotel and were on bear watch.”
But management, deciding two bear encounters was enough, turned off the doors and locked the ursine enticing cider up earlier in the evening.
Ultimately, Joel said he wasn’t afraid.
“It was kind of comical and entertaining,” he said.
It’s important to note Joel handled himself wisely. He didn’t panic and he didn’t engage. He had an escape option close at hand but kept the bear in his field of vision at all times.
Even when bears seem calm and accustomed to being relatively near humans, it is wise to keep your distance from bears, especially when they wander into urban environments and may become easily startled.
What to do if you see a black bear in the Smokies
With every bear story we share, we also like to share safety tips about black bears.
The park service offers several tips if you encounter a bear in areas near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If a bear seems to have taken interest in you, talk calmly to it so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Stand your ground but slowly wave your arms.
Know that a standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
Move to higher ground if possible, and stay calm. Remember that most bears do not want to attack.
Bears may sometimes react defensively by wooﬁng, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Do not scream to make sudden movements, as this may trigger an attack.
Pick up small children immediately.
Never give black bears access to food
Never, ever, offer food to a bear. This is bad for both humans and bears.
Not only is it harmful, it is also illegal.
Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs and never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.
Appy Lodge is located at 168 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.