What to Do When You Encounter Bear and Elk

by | Great Smoky Mountain National Park

One of the best things about visiting the mountains in Western North Carolina is the chance to get to see wildlife in its natural habitat. We at Carolina Outfitters and Carolina Ocoee want you to remain safe while viewing the many different animal species, especially when it comes to Bear and Elk. These animals can be dangerous and unpredictable but, with caution and some common sense, you can have a wonderful experience in nature. Below are some rules to heed when you encounter bear or elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.



Yes they are cute and look cuddly and you want to grab them and hug them (or at least pet them), but that would be a very bad and dangerous idea. Mama Bear is probably somewhere watching, and she will protect her cubs like a human mother who comes between her babies and a knife-wielding lunatic. Wild animals are just that–wild. Bears don’t care how friendly you are or that your intentions are pure. They will attack if they feel threatened. Remember, in most cases, you are in their territory and need to respect their boundaries for your safety and for the bear’s. If a bear attacks because of your carelessness, it will be euthanized and that’s sad for all parties involved, including the bear. Please heed the rules!


What you Should do if You See a bear While Hiking or Camping

  • DO NOT RUN: the bear will most likely chase you. Back away slowly. If the bear approaches you, yell and make yourself appear bigger by raising your arms in the air.
  • DO NOT PANIC: the bear is probably just passing through and will continue onward. DON’T block the bear’s path. Give it plenty of space to move away.
  • DO NOT APPROACH: getting a fantastic picture to brag about is not worth your life or that of the bear’s if she should attack. Leave wildlife photography to the experts who know what they’re doing and how to protect themselves. We also know you want pictures too so please stay at a safe distance to snap a few shots.
  • Keep dogs on a leash at all times. Whatever you do, DO NOT unleash the dog thinking it will protect you. You will most likely get your dog killed. If you encounter a bear while hiking with small children, pick them up and back away.
  • Carry bear spray. Learn how to use it to deter a charging bear. 
  • While camping, DO NOT keep food in the tent with you. Place all food (and anything with a scent to it such as deodorant) in a bear-proof container and hang out of reach on a high tree limb away from camp. Bears can smell food from miles away. You do not want to be awakened in the middle of the night to a 500 lb bear crawling in the tent after the last half of a candybar you were saving for a midnight snack. 
  • DO NOT FEED BEARS or any wildlife for that matter. They know how to hunt for their food and DO NOT need to grow accustomed to humans feeding them.
  • Always cook and store food away from your sleeping area.


welcome to bear country sticker

Visit BearWise for information you can trust and to learn more about Bear Safety while camping, hiking, and fishing. Here’s a flyer to print for Outdoor Safety.



elks in cherokee nantahala

Elk are majestic and beautiful wild animals. They roam the mountains, fields, and sometimes downtown in Cherokee, North Carolina. They appear harmless as you watch them graze, but one wrong move from you and disaster can strike. Walking up and attempting to pet them is a no-no. Viewing them from a distance is a smart idea, especially during rutting season when the bulls are madder than a hornet whose nest has been disturbed because they have to fight for…well…sex–or mating as it’s known in the animal kingdom. Male elk battle for dominance over a harem of 20 or more female elk. Stay out of their way to prevent serious injury or even death. 

What You Should Do When Encountering an Elk

  • DO NOT APPROACH OR TOUCH: Your actions can be disastrous for both you and the elk, which will have to be put down because you didn’t heed the rules. Use common sense and DON’T be responsible for such a tragedy. DON’T make the mistake of thinking you’ll beat the odds. 
  • DO NOT feed the elk. They have their own food source provided by nature and don’t need your help to feed them. It’s also illegal to feed wildlife in a National Park. The maximum penalty for feeding park wildlife is a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months or longer in jail.
  • NO SELFIES with the elk unless you’re at a safe distance! Same goes with videoing and photographing. Take pictures using a camera with telephoto lenses. 
  • If an elk crosses the road in front of you DO NOT get out of your vehicle for a closer look. I know the urge is strong to interact with these wild, beautiful creatures, but fight that urge! They may be awesome but they are still wild animals, and they don’t want to be your friend.
  • DO NOT tease or harass the elk; we guarantee that you won’t like what happens. 

North Carolina Elk Great Smoky Mountain Park

Your goal as a visitor to the Great Smoky Mountains, the Nantahala National Forest, and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Western North Carolina is to have a great time and return home in one piece. Respect nature at all times. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety as well as the safety of wildlife. Take home wonderful memories by being responsible! 

Wildlife Safety in the South.
Code of Federal Regulations states that: “Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces bear or elk is prohibited.”

Book your white water rafting adventure with Carolina Outfitters or Carolina Ocoee today! Put a splash of fun in your mountain vacation!


Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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