|Trail Features:||Panoramic Views|
|Trail Location:||Clingmans Dome|
|Roundtrip Length:||9.3 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2152 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||463 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||6575 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||13.60 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.55684|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.49628|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 13.2 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome Road. Turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and drive another 7 miles all the way to the end of the road. Because of the popularity of this area, the parking lot for this area is very large. To reach Silers Bald you'll be starting your hike from the Forney Ridge trailhead, located at the far end of the parking lot.
From Cherokee, drive north on Newfound Gap Road for 20 miles to reach Clingmans Dome Road.
To reach the Appalachian Trail, which will eventually lead you to Silers Bald, you'll start this hike from the Forney Ridge Trailhead. Less than two-tenths of a mile from the parking lot a spur trail will branch off to the right. You'll need to take this trail in order to reach the Appalachian Trail.
For the next half-mile the spur trail steadily climbs along a rocky and rugged pathway before reaching the Appalachian Trail junction. Our climb was made a little more pleasant by several song birds that serenaded us as we hiked though a thick morning fog.
Upon reaching the Appalachian Trail, turn left (towards the west) to continue towards Silers Bald.
Although we couldn't see anything on the way out, there are several points along this section of the AT, over the first half-mile or so, that offer outstanding views.
Along this same stretch we saw a fair amount of spring beauty that was just beginning to bloom during our mid-May hike. We also saw Trout-Lily, violets and white trillium as we continued down towards Double Spring Gap. Throughout much of this hike the Appalachian Trail also passes through an old-growth spruce-fir forest.
At 2.6 miles you'll reach the Goshen Prong Trail, which branches off towards the right. Continue along the Appalachian Trail from this junction.
At 3.2 miles hikers will reach the Double Spring Gap Shelter. Just beyond the shelter we passed through several acres of forest floor that was literally carpeted in spring beauty. This section of trail, however, was a complete mess. Due to several days of rain prior to our hike, long portions of the trail, several hundred yards in length, was mired in deep mud and muck, making for some fairly difficult hiking.
At 4.5 miles you'll reach the Welch Ridge Trail junction. Veer right here to continue on the Appalachian Trail towards Silers Bald. The sign here says that Silers Bald is 0.4 miles away. This refers to the backcountry shelter. The summit is actually only 0.15 miles away, after trekking up a fairly steep climb.
As you might have already gathered, we experienced quite a bit of fog the day we hiked this trail. Unfortunately this includes our time at the summit as well, so I have no photos to show you what you can expect to see from atop the bald.
At the summit you'll find a U.S. Geological Survey marker on top of a large rock in the middle of a small clearing (see the photo on the left). There's also a trail that runs perpendicular from the Appalachian Trail. This short side trail, maybe 50 feet in length, leads you to a vantage point overlooking Miry Ridge.
While Silers Bald was a grassy meadow for most of the 19th and early-20th centuries, it was likely a wooded peak before the arrival of European settlers. For this reason the National Park Service doesn't maintain the bald atop the mountain. As already mentioned, there's still a small grassy meadow area at the summit. As recently as the 1930s, a local writer and an avid hiker by the name of Laura Thornborough visited Silers Bald and recalled it as being a giant meadow at that time.
Indeed, by the late 1800s, Silers Bald was at the far eastern end of a giant grassy pasture that stretched all the way to Gregory Bald. Silers Bald is mentioned several times in Horace Kephart's Our Southern Highlanders as the last stop before one enters a heavily-wooded wilderness. According to Kephart, beyond "Hall cabin" (a herder's shack near Big Chestnut Bald, six miles east of Thunderhead):
"...there is just one shack, at Siler's Meadow. It is down below the summit, hidden in timber, and you would never have seen it. Even if you had, you would have found it as bare as a last year's mouse nest, for nobody ever goes there except for a few bear-hunters. From there onward for forty miles is an uninhabited wilderness so rough that you could not make seven miles a day in it to save your life..."
Silers Bald is named after Jesse Siler, a prominent North Carolinian who grazed sheep and cattle atop the mountain in the 1800s. To the south, in the Nantahala Mountains, there's another Silers Bald named after Jesse's brother, William.
If you continue hiking a little more than a tenth-of-a-mile beyond the summit you'll run into a larger meadow, maybe a half-acre in size. It's possible that this meadow offers views into North Carolina, but I couldn't tell for sure.
On our return back to the trailhead that day we were fortunate to have a brief window where the dense fog broke for about ten minutes, giving me enough time to snap a few photos.
Before reaching the parking area on your return trip you'll have two options: you can either take the same route, or you can bypass the AT spur trail and continue eastward on the Appalachian Trail to reach Clingmans Dome. This would be a good option if you've never been to the highest point in the state of Tennessee.