The Smoky Mountains is a haven for wildlife. There’s over 60 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, and over 80 types of reptiles and amphibians! That’s a lot of wildlife spotting opportunities, and all in one of North America’s most beautiful locations for hiking and camping.
As nature lovers ourselves, we wanted to share with you some of the common animals in the Smoky Mountains you could come across when visiting, along with where they can be found. The Smokies is also home to many endangered and rare species, we show you those too, and tips as to where you can find them!
There’s nothing better than hiking a stunning forest trail and seeing the wildlife unfold around you. So just make sure you enjoy it, but never disturb it.
What Common Animals Live in the Smoky Mountains?
While coyotes are common in the Smoky Mountains, it can still be difficult to encounter them. They communicate through howling, barking, huffing, and growling. So if you hear any of these sounds while hiking the forests, those sounds are likely to be coming from a coyote.
These mammals can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 50 pounds. You may be interested to know that coyotes are considered monogamous animals – that means they mate for life. They can also live up to 20 years and can run 40 miles per hour!
They are most active at night which is when they hunt for food. Your best chances of seeing them is probably between the months of January to March. Why? Well that’s their mating season so they tend to be very active during these months.
2. Eastern Bluebird
One beautiful bird you may come across in the Smokies is the Eastern Bluebird. These small birds have a large head and plump little bodies, and the males have a deep, bright blue back and head, with a rusty chest and neck. The rest of their lower body is white. Females are more subdued with a mostly greyish appearance with some hints of blue on their wings and reddish chest.
Most Eastern Bluebirds are very social, and you can often find them in flocks of 100! However, the friendliness subsides during mating season, where they will defend their territory from other Eastern Bluebirds.
They can be found at lower elevations, and in clearings and meadows. They also like to take shelter in holes in trees.
3. Black Bear
Black bears are the smallest bear species in North America. Their average size can vary from 4 to 7 feet long and weigh from 180 to 400 pounds. However the heaviest black bear ever seen weighed around 900 pounds. That’s huge!
These Smoky Mountain animals are not only great climbers and fast runners, but black bears are great swimmers as well. They tend to only socialize with other bears during mating season, but other than that they like to keep to themselves.
Black bears are quite common in the Smoky Mountains (there’s a population of around 1500), and they can often be spotted during spring and summer. As a tip, look out for black hairs on trees while hiking. If you see some, that’s where a black bear has used the tree bark to help shed their thick coat!
These intelligent animals are also powerful, and should not be approached. It’s actually illegal to approach them and you’re not allowed to be within 50 yards of them. If you do see one, stand still, admire, but then slowly move away from the bear in the opposite direction.
Although they are potentially dangerous, an average of only one person is killed by a black bear in North America a year. That’s an extremely low number considering the overall population of black bears is around 750,000.
4. White-Tailed Deer
This deer is called the White-Tailed Deer because, you guessed it, it has a white underside to its tail. In summer these animals have a reddish-brown coat, but that fades to a duller grey-brown in winter.
White-Tailed Deer prefer open woodland so look out for them in clearings while walking around the Smoky Mountains. The Cataloochee and Cades Cove is one place they are often spotted.
They tend to forage for food in the late afternoon and early evening so that’s the best time to try and spot these Smoky Mountains animals too. You may not see them for long though. They can run up to 30 miles per hour!
Also called the red lynx, bobcats are a medium-sized cat native to North America. They are incredible creatures, extremely fast, and can be recognized by their short bobbed tails.
Bobcats can grow to up to a meter in length, and are fierce when it comes to defending their territory. They make dens from natural formations likes cave and rocks, but also use hollowed-out trees or abandoned beaver lodges.
They’re very intelligent animals, are curious, and while they can be aggressive, attacks on humans are almost unheard of. If you manage to catch a glimpse of this shy wildcat count yourself extremely lucky!
These cute critters are some of the most common animals in the Smoky Mountains! Look out for these striped members of the squirrel family darting up and down trees headfirst, as they look for nuts, seeds and even bird eggs to eat!
If you’re hiking any of the forest trails in the lower elevations of the park, the chances are you will see a chipmunk. Keep your eyes peeled!
Raccoons are medium-sized mammals native to North America. They have a body length of 40 to 70 cm and can weigh up to 20 kilograms!
These animals are very adaptable and are good at living in both very remote areas and in the city. They also have small sensitive hands and can eat anything.
That being the case, when you’re visiting the Smoky Mountains make sure you secure any shiny things like mirrors or earrings when camping or having a picnic. Raccoons love stealing sparkly belongings.
Recognized as the second-largest group of amphibians, salamanders are cold-blooded and have a lizard-like appearance. The names came from the Greek word for Fire Lizard, and in the Smokey Mountains you can find around 30 different species! In fact this park is often called the “Salamander Capital of the World”.
The skin of a salamander is smooth and moist, and some salamanders even have tongues longer than their bodies. That’s not where the curiosities end. These water loving creatures sometimes have two to four legs, some have lungs, and some have gills!
There is one salamander – the Red Cheeked Salamander – which can only be found in the Smokey Mountains. If you want to see this wonderful endemic creature hike to higher elevations and keep an eye on creeks and lakes. You can spot this salamander by it’s very recognisable red cheeks!
9. Wild Turkey
Believe it or not, there’s around 500 wild turkeys living in the Smokey Mountains! Wild turkeys are pretty interesting creatures. They are able to fly up to 50 mph and have better eyesight than humans!
Although wild turkeys have great eyesight, they can’t see well at night so they often hide from predators by sleeping in trees.
However during the day wild turkeys are quite a common sight for tourists in the Smokies. If you want to see them, they like to hang out in low elevation valleys in open fields and beside roads.
10. Synchronous Fireflies
This is one of at least 19 species of firefly that can only be found in the Smoky Mountains. Why are we highlighting this species in particular? Well they’ve become a popular attraction as they synchronize their flashes in mid-June creating an epic display.
The Elkmont Forest in Tennessee is where this happens, and where these fireflies create an incredible natural light show like no other. Initially the flashes appear at random, but as time passes the fireflies begin to synchronize their flashes until the whole forest is one orchestrated light show.
To protect the species, the only way to see this light display is to apply for the opportunity to see it. That costs just $1, and then a lottery system decides who the few lucky souls are to see that year’s display.
To find out more about how you can apply to see these incredible animals in the Smokey Mountains, click here!
11. River Otter
This semi-aquatic mammal is native to North America and found along the continent’s waterways and coasts. River otters weigh between 5 and 14 kilograms and are often mistaken as sea otters. Incredibly they can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes while underwater, but spend most of their time on land. Giving us good opportunities to spot them!
Funnily enough, river otters hold hands while they are sleeping. They also love wrestling, somersaulting, and sliding as a means of fun. These wonderful animals were reintroduced to the park a number of years ago, and while they are still in small numbers, they’re starting to thrive.
In the Smokies, you can find river otters at lower elevations in areas where there are creeks and rivers. Look out for any swimming around! They’re definitely one of the cutest animals in the Smoky Mountains!
12. Red-shouldered Hawk
These hawks will perch high up or soar over an area looking for prey. Once spotted with their keen eyes and hearing, they will dive down at their unlucky prey.
Their head is brownish with a red chest and shoulders, and their belly is a pale brownish-red color. The upper feathers are a darker brown with pale or white splotches.
So where can you see them? Well, Red-shouldered Hawks prefer hardwood forests with a somewhat open canopy giving them enough room to fly and maneuver. They can also be found in swamps and even mixed forests.
Rare Animals in the Smoky Mountains to Look Out For
Unfortunately, there are many endangered species in the region too. The following animals are some of the rare and endangered animals you can find in the Smoky Mountains.
If you get the chance to see any you are very lucky.
1. Northern Flying Squirrel
There are 65 species of squirrel in the United States, and the Northern Flying Squirrel is one. This incredible animal has huge eyes that serve as their night vision, they can also glide 300 feet and make 180 degree turns. But best of all, at night they are fluorescent!
They’re exceptionally cute due to their huge eyes. So it’s little surprise that conservationists frequently use pictures of this squirrel when rallying support for protecting ecosystems.
Typically around ten inches in length (including their tail) these endangered squirrels are an uncommon sight in the Smokies. But keep an eye above your head just in case!
2. Eastern Hellbender
North America’s largest salamander – which can grow up to 29 inches in length! – can be found in the Smokies too. While they are not listed as endangered federally, they are considered quite rare in the park.
These huge creatures are quite a sight, and typically live under rocks in the mountain streams in the park. In particular they like fast flowing, rocky, shallow creeks.
We hope you’re lucky enough to see one when visiting, but don’t move any rocks in the hope of finding this gentle giant. The fun of spotting wildlife is seeing them naturally, not by disturbing them. They may not be the prettiest animals in the Smoky Mountains, but getting the chance to spot one is special.
3. Peregrine Falcon
“Peregrine” is the Latin word for “Wanderer” and that’s a good way to describe these majestic birds.
These falcons are incredible creatures that can see one mile ahead, and can even stalk three moving objects at the same time.
This bird is actually the faster animal on earth because it can fly at a speed of over 69 mph and dive at nearly 200 mph. Because of their agility, they can easily catch their prey. And since they have an extraordinary eyesight and precise speed, humans have often used peregrine falcons as hunting partners.
Unfortunately because of several human caused factors, including the thinning of their egg shells due to pollutants, peregrine falcons are now endangered. Today, there are believed to be less than 140,000 of this species left.
4. Indiana Bat
Indiana Bats eat a lot of night-flying insects and crop pests, making them vital to the ecosystem. These bats are quite small and their wingspan is only around 9 to 11 inches!
They hibernate during winter in caves or abandoned mines. But when not hibernating, one bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in just an hour! They are a camper’s and hiker’s best friend!
These small mouse-eared bats were once very common, but in recent years the Indiana bat has lost 95% of its population in the Smoky Mountains and is now endangered. The reason? A fungus that causes deadly white-nose syndrome. Your best bet to see these littles bats is near cave entrances around dusk.
5. Smoky Madtom
The Smoky Madtom is a type of small catfish that’s light brown, small (2 inches), and native to North America, particularly Tennessee.
This catfish is very secretive because during the day it buries itself in the river bed. They are also nocturnal, only coming out at night to eat aquatic invertebrates or certain fish.
They reproduce by spawning which happens once a year. However their lifespan is just 4 years and it takes 2 years for females to reach maturity, which means the Smoky Madtom only has 2 chances of reproduction. With so few opportunities to reproduce, it’s little surprise they’re regarded as an endangered species.
If you want a chance to see one of these rare Smoky Mountains animals, your best chance in the park will be Abrams Creek as there’s a known population there. Don’t disturb them, or try and find them by rooting around in the water. Rather keep a close eye near big and/or flat river rocks – those are their preferred habitats.
6. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are black and white with large cheeks and white patches. They prefer very specific conditions when it comes to habitat. They need mature pine trees that have been infected with red heart fungus. That fungus makes the wood soft and therefore easy for these woodpeckers to peck away at.
So if you want to find one of these wonderful birds, look out for pine trees that have a large red fungus growing near the tree trunk’s base. If you find one, you may just see a red-cockaded woodpecker if you wait long enough!
Unfortunately the population of this bird is decreasing and it’s now considered an uncommon species in the southeastern mountains of the United States. Currently, there are only around 14,000 red-cockaded woodpeckers left in the world.
7. Northern Pine Snake
This fairly large but non-venomous snake is native to the southeastern United States. They weigh 4 to 8 pounds and eat small mammals like birds and their eggs.
One of the reasons why pine snakes are endangered is that it takes them 3 years to reach sexual maturity and they only breed once a year.
These snakes are so rare that if you do spot one, authorities ask that you take a photo and then report the finding.