The Great Smoky Mountains are famous for their wildlife! From black bears to elk, there are plenty of iconic critters roaming around the mountains. In addition to these well-known animals, there are also a few animals in the Smoky Mountain that may come as a surprise to visitors. Find out more about these 4 animals you wouldn’t expect to see in the Smoky Mountains:
Yes, you read that correctly; armadillos have been spotted around the Smoky Mountains! Although they have not yet passed into the official boundaries of the national park, they have been seen in Pigeon Forge, Wears Valley, and a few other locations in the region. According to Dr. Tim Gaudin of the University of Tennessee, armadillos were first seen in Tennessee in 2013, and they have since accelerated their rate of expansion in the state.
While armadillos are often thought of as living in dry, desert environments, they actually almost always live within a half-mile of a body of water. Armadillos like wet soil, so they can burrow in the ground and dig for insects to eat. With 2,900 streams and a variety of bugs, the Smokies are actually a very attractive ecosystem for these animals in the Smoky Mountains. You should never touch an armadillo, as they can carry diseases.
2. Wild Hogs
Wild hogs are not native to the Smoky Mountains, or to North America for that matter. Decades ago, wild boars were brought over from Europe by people who wanted to hunt them, but the animals adapted well in the Smokies and started to breed at a rapid rate. Today, wild hogs are an invasive species in the mountains that are damaging the ecosystem by competing with turkeys, deer, and bears for food.
To help solve this problem, the National Park Service launched a hunting program to thin the hog herd. Thus, hogs hold the distinction of being the only animal that can be hunted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (but only by specially sanctioned wildlife managers).
The next time you’re hiking a newly restored trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to thank a mule! The Trails Forever crews frequently use mules to carry heavy equipment into the park’s backcountry for trail restoration work. Motorized vehicles are prohibited in the backcountry, so mules are an invaluable resource for these crews.
Mules, which are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, are perfect for hauling equipment through the park because they are strong and good tempered. A typical mule can carry up to 20 percent of its body weight, which works out to around 280 pounds. Reflecting their immense strength, the Trails Forever mules have been given names like “Tug” and “Tow.”
Believe it or not, llamas are also used as pack animals in the Smoky Mountains! A business located at the top of Mount LeConte employs these South American critters to deliver supplies via the Grotto Falls Trail. Llamas have played a similar role in the Andes Mountains for centuries, so they are actually well-equipped for traveling through the Smokies.
If you would like to see llamas in the national park, we recommend hiking the Grotto Falls Trail on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, as these are the days that supplies are typically delivered. Most of the llama sightings we’ve heard about have been during the morning.
Where to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
When you stay with us, you will be just a short drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN come with your choice of stellar amenities, including stunning mountain views, decks with hot tubs, and rocking chairs, fully equipped kitchens, epic theater rooms, fun games rooms, and even more excellent features. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 15 bedroom lodges, we are guaranteed to have the ideal accommodations for your getaway. To start planning your vacation, browse our selection of Smoky Mountain cabin rentals!