Great Smoky Mountains closes Cades Cove area over black bear encounter

Great Smoky Mountains National Park black bears habituated

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed a section of the popular Cades Cove after a habituated black bear scratched a visitor.

“After a visitor within their vehicle encountered a bear that has become habituated to humans and vehicles, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that Rich Mountain Road in the Cades Cove area will be closed to all traffic starting Saturday, August 5, until further notice,” the park announced Saturday, Aug. 5.

During the encounter, the visitor “experienced minor scratches” after the black bear made contact in search of food. Great Smoky Mountains officials note this visitor “did not contribute to the bear’s habituation.”

The are is closing to all visitors to give bears in the area an opportunity to eat and forage undisturbed.

“By closing Rich Mountain Road, we are protecting people and bears,” offers Superintendent Cassius Cash. “When people intentionally attract bears with human food or pet food it can lead to a dangerous situation for visitors, local communities, and the bears.” 

August is a critical time of year for bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As the park notes, “August is a critical time of year for bears when berries, acorns, and other primary food sources are not in season.”

Bears will often approach vehicles in search of food, however. This is a form of habituation, which occurs when bears learn to associate humans and their places, object, and behavior with food.

“Once someone throws food out of a vehicle toward a bear, or leaves food on the ground, the bear becomes conditioned to that food and that experience,” the park adds.

“Over time, food-conditioned bears may become bold and aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food. They may approach vehicles and people. A female bear will teach that inappropriate and dangerous behavior to her cubs.”

In kind, Great Smoky Mountains visitors and residents of local communities can help ensure their safety and the future of black bears by taking responsible steps to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to human food, pet food, and trash.

  • Never intentionally approach, feed, or leave food or trash out for a bear
  • Do not stop along roadways in the vicinity of bears
  • Always remain 50 yards (150 feet) or more from bears
  • Photographers should use telephoto lenses
  • For tips and more information, visit BearWise®, which teaches people how to live and recreate responsibly in bear habitat

To report a bear incident or unusual bear activity in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, call 865-436-1230. 

Visit the park’s Current Road, Facility, Trail & Backcountry Updates webpage for more info.

To help support the park and our beloved bears, shop NPO’s GRSM apparel here.

Published by Jon D. B.

Author & Conservationist Founder @ National Park Outfitters Behavioral Husbandry via Nashville Zoo

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