The wildlife watching is superb in the Smokies. Always keep your eyes peeled and try to move through the forest quietly for the best chance of seeing animals.
With over 1500 bears in the park, you may be lucky enough to spot one, though sightings are still rather rare. Good places to look for them are in the Cades Cove area, off Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and on the way to Laurel Falls.
Elk are easier to find. These massive animals were reintroduced to the park less than 20 years ago, and are most commonly seen in the Cataloochee Valley and on the fields beside the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Your best chance of seeing them is around dawn or dusk.
Owing to the diverse habitats, unique microclimates and varying elevations, the Smokies are a great place for bird-watching. More than 240 species have been found in the park. Late April and early May are peak migration in the Smokies, and the best time to spot birds.
The Smokies are one of the world's salamander capitals. Some 30 species are found in the park, including 24 species of lungless salamanders. True to name, these extraordinary creatures obtain oxygen not through their lungs, which they lack, but through the walls of blood vessels along their skin and mouths. You're best chance of seeing them is in and near mountain streams, sometimes hiding under rocks.
Other creatures you may see include wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, possums, raccoons, squirrels (both red and gray species), chipmunks, woodchucks, skunks and bats.
Nocturnal animals such as bobcats, coyotes, red foxes and gray foxes are rarely seen, but if you're out at night, be on the lookout!
While the park is massive, many of the most popular sights are just off its main artery, Newfound Gap Rd. West of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the Little River Rd takes you out to other historic areas, including the Elkmont Historic District. Keep heading west to reach the Cades Cove area, which has an excellent assortment of log structures from the early settler days. To the east, remote Cataloochee Valley has several historic buildings to wander through (and is a prime location for elk and black bears).