2014 Year of the Black Bear

There are plenty of black bear cubs this year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In early to mid August bears with and without cubs are easily spotted eating in wild cherry trees along Cades Cove loop road. Cades Cove is a valley in the Tennessee side of the park. Before the park was created the valley was home to hundreds of settlers. Some of their farms and churches have been preserved.
The best time to find bears in the cherry trees is early in the morning and sometimes late in the evening. Around noon they usually leave the trees into the woods to escape the heat. The cherry trees are located through out the valley but bears can often be seen in a group of trees by the entrance to the Elijah Oliver trail. This is where I spotted my first female with cubs. 

After photographing the family of bears for a about an hour, I decided to hike to Abrams Falls. This is an excellent 5 mile round-trip hike. Most of the trail follows the creek. The beginning of the trail is fairly level but there are three moderate climbs and descents to reach the falls. As you start the hike your ears are engulfed by the sounds of the rushing river but as you ascend the water fades away to the quiet sounds of the woods. Although this is a popular trail you will probably not see anyone until you reach the falls.

On the way back I spotted another female with two cubs eating blackberries. I rarely see bears when hiking in the Smokies. Although they were close to the trail the bushes were very thick. I noticed that one cub had a white patch on his chest. This is the first time I saw a cub in the park with these unique markings. However, I've seen photos of black bears in other parts of the Appalachians with similar markings.

In the evening I returned to the cove for a short hike to photograph butterflies. On my way back I saw a female black bear eating about 100 feet where I had been standing. She totally ignored me. While leaving the valley at dusk I spotted several more bears walking through the fields. Bears are plentiful this year in the park. Although I was only in the valley for a day I saw several bears. I think 2014 is definitely the year of the Black Bear.

A few more photos from my weekend getaway: