Smoky Mountains tourist learns the hard way not to get between a mother bear and her cubs

Black bear and cub eating grass
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A man visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park has given a perfect demonstration of how not to behave around bears – particularly when cubs are involved. The tourist spotted a female and her three offspring on a road near a parking lot, and rather than back away and give them space, he decided to hold his hand out to the young animals, beckoning them forward.

The incident was caught on camera by another park visitor, who shared the resulting video via Instagram account TouronsOfNationalParks – a page that calls out bad behavior at sites of natural beauty around the world, often involving wildlife.

Predictably, the sow went on the defensive and made a bluff charge at the man, giving him a fright and forcing him back so her cubs could cross the road safely. He was lucky; like all wild animals, bears are very protective of their young, and are likely to attack any perceived threat.

The NPS warns visitors that all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is bear country, and over 300 negative encounters with the animals are reported every year (with many more going unreported). 

Visitors are advised to be particularly careful when walking dogs, which are involved in the majority of these incidents. Dogs are only permitted in campgrounds, in picnic areas, on roads, and on the Gatlinburg and Oconaluftee River trails. If visiting the park with your pet, you should should keep it on a leash no longer than 6ft at all times, and never allow it to bark at or chase a bear.

"If your dog gets into an encounter with a bear, there is about a 50 percent chance that it will be injured or killed – and an even higher chance you'll be injured if you intervene," says the NPS. 

Respect the bears

Deliberately approaching, distracting, or feeding wild animals in US National Parks is illegal, and those found guilty can expect a fine, or even jail time.

In 2021, a young woman was fined over $2,000 and sentenced to four days in jail after approaching a grizzly bear sow and her cubs to take photos at Yellowstone National Park. As ABC News reported at the time, 15-year-old Samantha Dehring from Illinois, was also given a year of unsupervised probation.

"Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish," said , acting US attorney Bob Murray on behalf of the District of Wyoming in a statement after the sentencing. "Here, pure luck is why Dehring is a criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist."

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.