National Park Service Warns Visitors of Unpredictable Wildlife Behavior in the Great Smoky Mountains

Two elk walking in tall grass

Do you like viewing the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If you’re anything like us, you absolutely love spending time looks at the wildlife. Through the end of October/beginning of November, visitors should be aware that the largest animal in the national park will have extremely unpredictable behavior, here’s why:

The elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are still undergoing their rutting season, also known as their fall mating season. During this time, the male elk will be searching for female mates. Visitors who happen to see an elk will likely hear male elk making a loud bugling sound to attract the females. This season happens every year, from around the beginning of September through the end of October/first week of November.

Because of the mating season, large fields in the Oconaluftee and Cataloochee areas will be closed to visitors. These fields are closed for the safety of visitors and wildlife, and to give the wildlife plenty of space to freely roam without disruption.

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Should you come across an elk, during their rutting season or anytime throughout the year, it’s best to keep your distance. They are the largest animal we have in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they can cause a lot of damage when their unpredictable behavior takes over.

Wildlife Safety TipsThree elk roaming the grass in the mountains

Remember to enjoy the wildlife from a distance and don’t get in the way of the elk. You can take great pictures of the wildlife using the zoom feature on your camera, or you can view the elk from a pair of binoculars.

Never feed the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains. When you go on a picnic in the national park, or when you eat a snack bar while you’re hiking, don’t leave anything behind. This includes trash and leftovers. Animals in the national park, elk included, will search for food that has been left behind. Even if they only find the food once, they will continue returning to the area to see if more food has been left behind. This is dangerous for the wildlife and the visitors, so it’s best if you just don’t leave anything behind. Make sure all of your items end up in a waste receptacle, or pack a small plastic bag for your trash while you’re hiking along the trail.

Often times, wildlife seems cute and cuddly, but it’s important to remember they can change their behavior in a matter of seconds. The smallest movement or camera flash can change an animal’s perspective. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Don’t approach them, no matter what. Stay as far away as possible, but don’t let it scare you from enjoying the national park.

For more safety tips when viewing elk and wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains, take a look at the National Park Service website here:

Where to Stay to See the Wildlife

Are you ready to see the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and maybe even spot an elk while you’re here? At HearthSide Cabin Rentals, we will help you find the best cabin for your stay, and can even help you choose a cabin close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (so you’ll only be a couple of minutes away from all of the great places to spot the wildlife!) We hope to hear from you and look forward to seeing you in the Smokies!