Great Smoky Mountains: A Birdwatching Paradise

As the sun slowly peeks over the mountaintops through the low morning clouds, the songs of birds float through the forests. Whether you are an avid birdwatcher, photographer, or simply looking for some peaceful time in nature, birdwatching in the Smoky Mountains is an exciting way to experience the pristine mountains and valleys. With over 200 species that frequent the region, you could even do some birdwatching from your Pigeon Forge cabin's back deck!

Birdwatching is a great outdoor activity for families with kids of all ages. On shorter, heavily wooded trails, birds scour the forest floors for food in the mornings and the kids can follow the tunes of early day chirpings to check more feathered sightings off their list. Even those with less mobility can take carriage rides with Cades Cove Stables and snap pictures of beautiful fowl, like wild turkey and ruffed grouse. A relaxing Cabins for YOU cabin in the mountains complemented by exploring the gorgeous nature in the surrounding areas and exciting Pigeon Forge attractions makes for the perfect Smoky Mountain vacation and tons of awesome pictures to take home.

Prime Birdwatching Areas

The variation in climate, elevation, and terrain found in the Smoky Mountains provides a wide range of nesting grounds and habitats for over 200 bird species! It is possible for you to visit all the varying environments during a 3-day weekend trip. Take on moderately difficult hikes deeper into backcountry away from heavier foot traffic and more wildlife viewing opportunities to Andrew’s Bald or Rainbow Falls. Print your birding checklist or keep it handy on your phone as you adventure through each distinct locale!

Cades Cove

Picturesque mountains rest behind thick forested tree line at the foot of pristine, rolling valley meadows in beautiful Cades Cove, a favorite among visitors to the Smoky Mountains. Restored historic log cabins, churches, and barns peacefully reside among the high grass along the 11-mile paved loop. Lower elevation and milder climates encourage numerous species of birds and other native wildlife to roam about, providing birdwatchers with ample photo opportunities! Catch glimpses of wild turkey scouring the ground for food while pileated woodpecker work hard on the tree bark for insects. Great blue heron lift their long, thin legs stepping through the waters of the riverbeds as they slowly search for fish.

Birds to keep an eye and ear out for while visiting Cades Cove:

  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  • Wood Duck
  • Killdeer
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  • Mourning Dove

 

Hike to Grotto Falls

This easy, 2.6-mile hike roundtrip is another favorite among visitors to the Smoky Mountains because families with younger children can fair this hike, and the falls are beautiful! Much of the trail is heavily wooded, making it another great place to refine your birdwatching senses as you listen and look for more fine-feathered friends. The slight elevation and cooler climate under the shade of the tree canopy make a great habitat for winged species such as white-throated sparrow and American goldfinch. Be sure to bring your binoculars to search deeper into the forestry without leaving the trail!

Clingmans Dome

The high-pitched notes of the chickadee and soothing songs of the Canada warbler hang in the air of higher elevations near spots like Clingmans Dome. Unparalleled 360-degree views unobstructed by manmade structures and far above the tree line in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park await you on the viewing tower. On the short walk to the tower, however, visitors get a unique opportunity to see seasonal birds more often seen in northern climates and species in migration. Capture pictures of the northern saw-whet wwl, dark-eyed junco, and red-breasted nuthatch to bring home along with breathtaking photos of the Smoky Mountains from Clingmans Dome!

More feathered beauties to check off your Birds of the Great Smoky Mountains list while visiting Clingmans Dome are:

  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Raven
  • Brown Creeper

 

Birdwatching Seasons

Climate dictates the migration habits of numerous species spotted throughout the Smoky Mountains. Springtime is a great season to visit the Smokies for avid birders and newbies! The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage offers numerous guided hikes narrated by seasoned birdwatchers and wildlife experts. Not to mention, this event is during peak flowering season, lending visitors some of the most gorgeous spring scenery of a lifetime!

Summertime means species have flourished from the springtime along with mild weather perfect for morning hikes. The fall gives birdwatchers a breathtaking backdrop of autumn colors for pictures of permanent-resident feathered friends like the great horned owl, red-cockaded woodpecker, and eastern Phoebe.

As the white blanket of snow lays over the rolling mountains and rivers freeze into winding icy pathways through the quiet forests, catch glimpses of cold-weather birds against the white snow like white-crowned sparrow and red-winged blackbird.

Get Into Birding!

The Smoky Mountains are a great place to start trying your hand at birding – especially when you have downtime between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg excursions but want a budget-friendly way to have fun outside of your cabin! Here are a few pointers to getting started:

Get Your Gear

There is not a whole lot of gear necessary for birdwatching, but these few pieces certainly make birding more easy and exciting. Binoculars are almost a must; the federally protected Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are thick. Birds won’t be easily spotted amongst the lush greenery on your wooded hikes without some assistance from binoculars. While the Birds of the Smoky Mountains Checklist is extremely informative and helpful, you will want to invest in a supplementary guide with pictures or use your smartphone to look up the birds before heading out on your birding adventure. There are apps you can also download on your phone that provide pictures, behavioral habits, and even songs and calls!

Preparation

Using the Birds of the Smoky Mountains Checklist and supplemental pictures and apps, know what birds you want to see before you go! Check to see if the species is seasonal or a permanent resident, and learn about their signature sounds, so you can track them better.

Get Out and Explore!

Birding is not only a great way to experience the great outdoors but also an awesome learning opportunity for explorers of all ages and experience levels! While you and the kids are busy hunting the trees with your eyes, you are sure to discover other wildlife and plant life you might have missed if you were not studying the forests so intently!

Do Some Birding from the Back Deck

Many of our beautiful cabins are tucked away into the seclusion of the Smoky Mountains where you can enjoy gorgeous views and serene sounds of bird songs right from the hot tub on your cabin deck! Spend quiet, relaxing mornings swaying in your rocking chair while surrounded by nature, without a care in the world. When you are not outside or exploring, kick back in cozy mountain-cabin furnishings and enjoying tons of extra amenities like pool tables, cabin theaters rooms, indoor pools, and even luxury cabins!