The Smoky Mountains are replete with wildlife, but finding a way to view them may not be the easiest endeavor. Due to heavy tree cover, the creatures that dwell within the mountains have plenty of places to hide from human visitors. If you want to see and take pictures of wildlife in the Smokys, head to Cataloochee Valley or Cades Cove.
The Cataloochee Valley is surrounded by peaks that stand 6,000 feet tall. You have the best chance of viewing wildlife here in the morning or evening hours, as most animals become active at night time. In 2001, a herd of elk were released into the valley, and you can still see them roaming the area. Other wildlife often seen in this region of the park include deer and turkey. Cataloochee Valley is 65 miles from Gatlinburg and 35 miles from Cherokee.
Cades Cove is a broad valley, and one of the most popular places to go in the Smoky Mountains. The animals that can often be seen in this area of the national park include white-tailed deer, coyote, and ground hogs. One of the best ways to observe animals in Cades Cove is by walking along the 11-mile loop that surrounds the area, but several other trails also originate from this valley. Cades Cove is only 27 miles from Gatlinburg, and 57 miles from Cherokee.
Always keep in mind that you are not allowed to approach an elk or bear within 150 feet. In general, if you are so close to an animal that it must change its path or becomes disturbed, it is time to back off. Bring binoculars or a camera with a long lens to the mountains instead, so you can witness the creatures but remain at a safe distance.