The 3 Dangerous Animals You Should Avoid in the Smoky Mountains

a black bear cub crosses the street

Black bear cubs may be cute, but you should always assume a protective bear mom is somewhere nearby (photo by Ben McMurtray/

Wildlife spotting is part of the fun when visiting the Smoky Mountains, but you’ll need to keep your distance from these dangerous animals

As someone who has run around the mountains of East Tennessee for over three decades, I know dangers lurk in the mountains. No, I’m not talking about Bigfeet or feral people or witches or haints. Mother Nature in the Smokies is serious and if you don’t respect her or her creatures, you’ll find out. 

The Smoky Mountains represent Mother Nature’s finest, but it’s important to remember that Mother Nature is wild. Though not all manner of wildlife in the Smokies is dangerous, it’s best to leave wildlife alone. Among the dangerous wildlife in the Smokies are bears, deer & elk and snakes. 

black bear standing up
A standing black bear is usually just curious but do keep your distance (photo by Constance Mahoney/

1. Black Bears

Allow me to channel my inner Stephen Colbert for a minute. BEARS! This isn’t some double-secret factoid we keep up here in the mountains. Bears. Are. Dangerous. They are big and they are strong. Also, they are deceptively fast. They have big teeth and bigger claws that were created for the sole purpose of turning you into meat. 

A bear sighting in the mountains is a wonderful thing, provided it’s from a safe distance. But every year some yahoo gets too close. Usually, even when they get too close, they survive. But sometimes they don’t. The National Park Service has a whole list of stuff to do if you encounter a bear. The end of the list is basically “Punch that thing in the nose and pray.” But are bears really that dangerous? Yes. They sell bear repellant spray for a reason.

bull elk with a calf
Remember that deer and elk are wild animals as well (photo by Harry Collins/

2. Deer & Elk

I know it’s hard to believe an animal whose primary defense mechanism is standing stock still is dangerous. But those antlers can be sharp and there’s a lot of power in those legs. Look, as long as you keep a safe distance, you’ll be fine. There are no instances of which I am aware that involve a rabid elk charging across a field and beating someone down. There are, however, videos all over the internet of people making poor choices with otherwise chill wildlife. You’ll see someone get too close to a member of the deer family and that thing rises up and throws hooves. 

The more serious deer danger, however, is when you see them by the side of the road at dusk or dawn. Remember deer aren’t known for the best decision making. If they get spooked, they may well run right into the path of your car. There are places in the mountains that would be inconvenient. There are also places where it could be deadly. 

rattlesnake in grass
A timber rattler is a snake with deadly venom (photo by Rusty Dodson/

3. Poisonous snakes

Look, if we’re being honest, the third choice here is probably humans, right? To that end, I had a whole “Planet of the Apes” section lined up. “Beware the beast man …  alone among Gods’ primates, he kills for sport, for lust for greed.” I mean say what you will about Ape culture, but the Lawgiver had bars. 

However, going with humans here seemed to be cliché. So we go with … SNAKES! Of the 23 types of snakes in the Great Smoky Mountains, only two are poisonous, the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. Of the two the timber rattler is more dangerous. However, it should be noted there is no record of a fatal snakebite in the park’s history. Some people believe that the park has cottonmouths, but it does not. The Northern Water Snake does resemble a cottonmouth, but it is non-venomous. 

The biggest danger from a snake is probably to your heart when you’re surprised by one. When I was a kid, I had an Eastern Hognose rise and flatten its head at me like a cobra and I nearly went home to the Lord right then. But remind yourself that you’re probably fine and avoid snake confrontations. 

Wildlife is just that … wild. You might not think of an animal like a deer as harmful, but it can be. With animals like deer, bears and snakes, it’s just best to keep a safe distance and enjoy yourself without disturbing. If you do accidentally have a close encounter with a wild animal in the mountains, be calm. Remove yourself as safely as possible. Do not agitate the animal unless you have no other alternative.

Subscribe to our newsletter for area news, coupons and discounts

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Please wait...

Thank you for sign up!

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at