Black Bears in Northeast Tennessee

Follow along with outdoorsman and writer Johnny Molloy as he treks through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

Backcountry exploration of Northeast Tennessee takes us to remote areas, where you’re more likely to find a black bear. After reaching all-time lows in the Southeast in the 1960s, black bears have made an incredible comeback.

Today, bears can be found in every county in East Tennessee, from the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau to the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. As of 2020, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency estimates 6,000 bears in the area. There are an estimated 1,700 bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone – that’s two per square mile! Tennessee is thought to have more bears today, than in the last 100 years.

Bear Safety

Black bear populations in Northeast Tennessee are rising fast, almost as fast as the human population. It seems bear and man have mostly learned to coexist. The message is out that feeding bears is a death sentence, just like any wild animal. Keeping people, food, and pets away from bears actually help them survive.

Seeing a bear can be an exciting experience, but let’s keep that a positive one with simple tips. By learning more about bears and their curious nature, you can better prepare and make it a positive and safe experience for both you and the bears.

Hiking and Camping Tips

When camping in the backcountry, it is important to store food away from wild animals. This not only makes a trip viable and safe, but it keeps wild bears wild. It is very important to never feed bears. Bears can quickly learn to associate people with food, and easily become habituated to human food.

While hiking, you should always watch ahead for bears or bear signs. In their natural habitats, bears prefer to avoid humans, but will react aggressively when startled or protecting cubs. Human confrontations with bears are usually the result of a sudden encounter with a bear protecting its space, cubs, or food.

Whether on the trail or in your campsite, do not run. Remain calm, group together and pick up small children. Continue to face the bear and back away slowly, talking calmly to identify yourself as a human and not another animal. If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible, and making loud noises. Carry and know how to use bear spray, which is available at many outdoor retailers and can be used to deter a charging bear.

Fun History of Teddy Bear

You have heard of a Teddy Bear, but do you know the story? Back in 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt was hunting in Mississippi. After an unsuccessful day, embarrassed locals brought a bear cub to camp. He refused, since the bear didn’t have a sporting chance. The story got passed on through the media, and the “Teddy Bear” was born.

Bear Tips provided by Recreation.gov and the US Forest Service.

Leave No Trace

Remember to leave our trails with no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime. Find out how you can make a difference with our leaders for litter-free Tennessee efforts.

Johnny Molloy is the author of many outdoor guides including Best Tent Camping: Tennessee, Paddling Tennessee, and Five Star Trails Tri-Cities: East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.