The Nantahala Gorge, in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, is abundant in wildlife. The Gorge is mostly wilderness much of which is national forest: The Nantahala National Forest in Bryson City NC is made up of 531,148 acres. This wooded area of mountains, meadows, and rivers is teeming with wildlife. We at Carolina Outfitters love to show you these native animals, when they make an appearance, on a white water rafting trip down the Nantahala River. Below are a few wildlife species, some more elusive than others. Enjoy the read, and don’t forget to BOOK a white water rafting trip with Carolina Outfitters before you leave! 



Michael Johnston from Pixabay

Mountain Lion

According to some experts, mountain lions (aka cougars) no longer roam the mountains of western North Carolina but, from time to time, someone will spot one. Mistaken for a bobcat (even though a bobcat is much smaller)? Who knows, but if they are still out there, they are rarely seen. Stealthy predators, like the mountain lion, require a large territory to hunt and habitat. If there are any cougars in western North Carolina, there would probably only be one or two, which is why they are seldom seen. They mainly eat deer which are plentiful in the Nantahala National Forest, making it the ideal habitat for these beautiful creatures: Grab more info on the mountain lion at Mountain Lion | National Wildlife Federation.


Image by Hans Toom from Pixabay

White-Tailed Deer

Deer are not as difficult to spot as a mountain lion, but you’re more likely to see one right at dawn when the sun starts to rise or near dusk when the sun is setting, and sometimes when the moon is full. They prefer to spend those early and late hours grazing, and their days sleeping off all the vegetation they consumed. As social animals, they move in herds, and their mating season is in the spring for the Southern Applachians. For more fun facts, visit  Facts About Deer | Live Science.



Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay


In the 1980s coyotes began to spread from neighboring states into North Carolina, including the Nantahala River Gorge area. You will most likely hear a pack of coyotes before you see them. Their yips and howls can be heard for miles, echoing off mountain ranges and along rivers in the Nantahala National Forest. They also may roam your yard at night looking for prey (keep your pets inside!), or just passing through on their way to somewhere else. A coyote can adapt to just about any habitat, even in suburban areas. Coyotes are mainly harmless, but sometimes can be a nuisance. Coexist with Coyotes is a good article on what you need to do if you see coyotes on a regular basis. 


bear cubs in nantahala forest

Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Black Bear

Chances are if you’ve been in the mountains of western North Carolina for any length of time, you’ve probably seen a black bear. Though they may be cute and cuddly, especially bear cubs, they are wild animals and not to be trifled with. Bears of the Great Smoky Mountains are active in the spring and summer months and sleep high in hollowed out trees (their preferred den for the winter) or wherever they can find safe shelter. Never feed a bear or allow it access to human food. This can cause all kinds of problems, and usually ends with the bear having to be put down. Remember to always respect nature, especially wildlife. Visit Black Bears Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more information and the proper way to view bears.



Image by Eszter Miller from Pixabay 


Bobcats roam the woods mainly between dusk and midnight. During this time they are hunting for food, which include rabbits, squirrels, birds, and even snakes are on their menu. Days are spent sleeping in their dens of rock piles, brush piles, or hollow logs, to name a few . Bobcats are secretive by nature, and early settlers to the Great Smoky Mountains regarded them with awe, often calling them “woods ghosts”. They are abundant in the western North Carolina mountain but, because of their elusiveness, it’s a special treat to see one. Read more about bobcats of western North Carolina at Bobcat | North Carolina Wildlife Profiles.



Image by peter lösch from Pixabay 


A beaver is a large rodent that can be spotted in the Nantahala River Gorge. Beaver are a blessing and a curse for the North Carolina mountain rivers. Their ponds are a habitat source for wetland wildlife, and they help control erosion and sedimentation. Their dams, on the other hand, cause agricultural and residential flooding. Chewing on trees destroys timber land. Early trappers nearly wiped out the beaver for their pelt, meat, and highly valuable castor oil. Today, only licensed trappers are allowed to trap them from November to March. A beaver’s favorite source of food is the inner bark of trees, and they build their dens along river banks. To read more about beavers, visit North Carolina Wildlife.




Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay  


When you hear of armadillo, you probably think of Texas, but these nine-banded mammals made their way north and east across the Mississippi River and into Tennessee by the 1980s. They were spotted in the western North Carolina mountains by the year 2,000. These sloth-like creatures are the only mammal with a shell. Armadillos sleep up to 16 hours per day and spend the rest of the time foraging for food. If you see a bunch of people standing around a gray lump on the side of the road, don’t be alarmed. We are fascinated by this new species in the Great Smoky Mountains. To learn all about these creatures, visit Armadillo Facts | Live Science.



Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay 

Eastern Gray Squirrels

The most common squirrel in the Nantahala River Gorge area is the eastern gray squirrel. They were adopted as North Carolina’s state mammal in 1969. Squirrels are one of the few animals in the wilderness who are active during the day, and you’re sure to see one when you step into the Nantahala National Forest. Squirrels are comfortable living around humans and will make their homes in old growth trees and where there is an abundance of nuts. They also love bird-feeders and can become a nuisance. To learn how to deal with squirrels who have invaded your personal space, read this article on Eastern Gray Squirrel | North Carolina Wildlife Profiles.



Image by Anatoly Kalmykov from Pixabay 

Feral Pigs

Wild pigs, boar, or swine are a non-native species of western North Carolina and even North America. Early explorers from the 1500s brought them to North Carolina as a source of food. These omnivorous creatures are adaptable to their surroundings, but will avoid contact with people when possible. They become dangerous to humans when they are cornered or a person comes between a sow and her babies. Their rooting habits are destructive to the land, they carry diseases that are harmful to humans and livestock. All in all, they are not a well-liked creature, and there are no restrictions on hunting them. Want to know more? Read this article on Feral Swine | North Carolina Wildlife Profiles


Image by Pixamio from Pixabay 


Rabbit colonies can be found all over any wooded area. These cute little creatures breed three to four times a year to insure their population doesn’t dwindle. According to Animal Diversity Web, only 15% of bunnies survive the first year of their life. Three species of rabbit are native to western North Carolina, including the Appalachian Cottontail Rabbit, but the most common is the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit. They are adapted to making their homes near humans. If you have a large grassy yard, early in the morning or late in the evening you can observe them as they munch on vegetation.

The wildlife in western North Carolina range from the most deadly to the cute and cuddly. Respect their boundaries and you should be fine. Above all else enjoy your time in the Nantahala Gorge, an area overflowing with nature  and an abundance of fun to be had. Book a trip with Carolina Outfitters and know what it means to have a grand time white water rafting down the Nantahala River!  

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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