How Common Are Bear Attacks In The Smoky Mountains?

The Smoky Mountains are known for their natural beauty and wildlife, including black bears.

While the chance of a bear attack is very low, there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of running into one of these big creatures.

Fatal Bear Attacks: A Rare But Tragic Reality

The Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park, with millions of visitors, but it has only experienced two fatal bear attacks in its history.

  • September 2020: A 43-year-old was killed by a bear while camping by himself in the Hazel Creek area.
  • May 2000: A 50-year-old was attacked and killed by a mother bear and cub near Elkmont. This was the first recorded fatal bear attack in a southeastern U.S. National Park.
Black Bear

Non-Fatal Attacks: A Reminder Of Precautions

While not as severe, non-fatal bear attacks highlight the importance of preventive measures:

  • June 2021: A teenage girl was mauled after a bear pulled her from her hammock at Maddron Bald.
  • May 2016: A hiker was attacked through his tent wall at Spence Field shelter.
  • June 2015: A bear grabbed a teenage boy from his hammock at Hazel Creek campsite.

Important Note: In several of these incidents, food was properly stored. Even with precautions, encounters can occur.

Prevention Is Key

The Great Smoky Mountains are bear country, and it’s our responsibility to be prepared to protect ourselves and the bears. For more info, check out the National Park Service website’s bear info page

Black Bear
  • Food Storage is Essential:
    • Never feed bears, intentionally or unintentionally. This makes them associate humans with food, leading to dangerous behavior.
    • Use bear-proof containers: Store all food, scented items, and trash in approved containers, such as bear canisters or park-provided dumpsters, or take them with you.
    • Backcountry? Hang it high: Utilize food storage cables properly.
  • Be Alert:
    • Hike in groups and make noise to deter bears from being surprised.
    • Avoid distractions: Put away phones and headphones.


  • Bear spray can be effective – know how to use it.
  • Report any bear encounters to park rangers.
  • A fed bear is a dead bear. Your actions directly affect the safety of these magnificent animals.


Bear attacks are extremely rare, considering the large bear population and high number of visitors.

Get prevention tips from the National Park Service website:

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