covers 22 hikes in the Smokies, including "Quiet Walkways," self-guided nature trails, and recommendations based on best views, nature lovers, history hikes, waterfalls, etc.
|Trail Features:||Outstanding views|
|Trail Location:||Clingmans Dome Area|
|Roundtrip Length:||3.5 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||899 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||514 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||6310 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||5.30 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.55646|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.49591|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 13.2 miles south on Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome Road. Turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and drive another 7 miles to the end of the road. Due to its popularity, the parking lot for the highest point in the Smokies is quite large. Andrews Bald is accessed via the Forney Ridge Trail, which is located at the far end of the parking lot.
From Cherokee, drive 20 miles north
to reach Clingmans Dome
Andrews Bald is an outstanding destination for hikers seeking spectacular views of the Great Smoky Mountain highlands. The hike is just long enough to escape the crowds at Clingmans Dome, but short enough for almost everyone in the family to enjoy.
The upper portions of the Forney Ridge Trail used to be an extremely rugged pathway, characterized by loose rocks, small boulders and creek run-off. Fortunately for hikers of all levels, the Friends of the Smokies, through the Trails Forever program, made some much needed improvements to this section of trail beginning in the fall of 2008. During the multi-year project crews worked to rebuild the trail by installing drainage structures, elevated turnpikes, and constructing staircases out of locust wood and native rock.
As a result, hiking out to Andrews Bald is now much easier than it used to be.
The last time my wife and I hiked this trail we virtually rolled the dice. Clingmans Dome was shrouded in fog, a leftover from the rain and snow that passed through the area the night before. Did I mention this was mid-May?
The main reason for trekking to Andrews Bald is to enjoy the spectacular panoramic views that await you at the end of the hike. So if it's fogged-in, what's the point?
Well, we took our chances anyway, and made the call to go for it. So in the fog and mist, we began our descent down the southern flank of Clingmans Dome, also known as Forney Ridge.
Just after World War II this general area was the site of a major military plane crash. On June 12, 1946 a B-29 Flying Superfortress, enroute from Chicago to Florida on a night navigational flight, crashed into Clingmans Dome. The aircraft crashed just north of the Appalachian Trail, roughly 1/8 of a mile to the east of where the Clingmans Dome Tower now stands. Upon impact the wings were sheared off, and the fuselage continued on towards Clingmans Dome Road. The Park Superintendent at the time said that the wreckage was strewn over an acre or more of ground. All 12 men aboard the plane were killed.
As you begin your hike, the first section of trail passes through a spruce-fir forest, which typically occupies the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and is basically a relic of the last ice age. You'll immediately notice that many of the trees in this area are dead, or in the process of dying. This is mostly the result of the balsam woolly adelgid, a small insect that infests and kills Fraser firs. Since firs have little natural defense against adelgids, which were first introduced from Europe in the early 1900s, more than 90% of the Fraser firs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have already been killed.
At just over a tenth-of-a-mile from the trailhead the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail (leading to the Appalachian Trail) forks off to the right. To continue on towards Andrews Bald, turn left here.
Roughly one mile from the trailhead the Forney Creek Trail branches off to the right. This trail eventually dead-ends at Backcountry Campsite 74 near Lake Fontana, 11.4 miles away. Hikers should go straight at this junction to continue on towards Andrews Bald.
At roughly 1.7 miles from the trailhead, hikers will reach Andrews Bald. To find the best views, continue on for another 100 yards or so. From here you'll have several acres of open grassy meadow from which to choose a picnic spot, or to simply take in the incredible panoramic views.
High elevation grassy meadows in the Southern Appalachians are known as balds, and Andrews Bald is the highest bald in the Great Smoky Mountains. However, without maintenance from the National Park Service, both Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald would be reclaimed by forest. Both balds are also known for their spectacular displays of flame azalea and rhododendron blooms in late spring and early summer. Unfortunately, on this particular hike, we were still a few weeks too early for either.
Although it was windy and cool, we still had beautiful blue skies above us, and a tremendous view of Fontana Lake and the southern Smokies. We definitely made the right call to go on our hike that day.