Great Smoky Mountains National Park | FORNEY RIDGE TRAIL TO ANDREWS BALD

View of the Smokies from Andrews Bald

View of the Smokies from Andrews Bald


See the Clingmans Dome Region web page for an interactive location map.


Length: 3.8 miles, round trip
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

I heard that the views from Andrews Bald where pretty good, so I decided to hike to it on the Forney Ridge Trail. The trail actually goes much farther—4.5 miles in total until it dead ends into the Springhouse Branch Trail. Andrews Bald is about 1.9 miles down the trail, making the total effort a 3.8-mile out-and-back hike.

The hike begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Take the paved path that leads to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, but fork off to the left on the stone stairs when the trail splits. A sign clearly identifies this fork as the Forney Ridge Trail, but what you are actually on at this point is a connector trail from the parking lot that will take you to the Forney Ridge Trail. If you want to gauge the difficulty of the hike rather quickly, the connector trail is the steepest part of the hike. If this is no problem, then you only have it easier for the rest of the journey.

Start of the Forney Ridge Trail

Start of the Forney Ridge Trail

At the intersection with the actual Forney Ridge Trail—which is just a tenth of a mile from the start—take a left, following the sign to Andrews Bald and the Forney Creek Trail. You can get to the Appalachian Trail by taking a right.

You will immediately notice that the swarm of humanity that congregated in the Clingmans Dome parking area all but vanishes once you get on the trail. Nearly everyone will be heading up to the observation deck or simply taking in the views from the parking lot. Once on the trails you will see very few people and can spend the rest of your visit in near solitude.

The Forney Ridge Trail was my first hike in the Smokies that actually started off downhill, not uphill. The terrain of the connector trail is a manicured gravel path, but once you get on the real trail things become extremely rocky. However, either by human design or natural occurrence, there are stretches of the trail where the rocks have been laid out like flat slabs you might find along a garden path in somebody’s yard. You still need to watch your step to keep from twisting an ankle, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. Hiking poles are highly recommended if you have them.

Typical terrain of the first mile of the Forney Ridge Trail

Typical terrain of the first mile of the Forney Ridge Trail

The trail passes through a forest of fir trees, which is something you won’t get to see often in the southeastern United States because most mountain elevations are not high enough and the weather is too warm. Unfortunately, many of these trees have been killed off by the Balsam Wooly Adelgid, a flying insect that infests and kills Balsam and Fraser Fir trees. The dead trees stand out like white sticks on the mountain landscape.

Dead fir trees still stand

Dead fir trees still stand

Unlike most of the other heavily forested trails I hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Forney Ridge Trail there were a few clearings that offered some nice views of the surrounding mountains.

View of the Smokies from the Forney Ridge Trail

View of the Smokies from the Forney Ridge Trail

About .9 mile into the hike the rocky terrain subsides as the trail reaches the bottom of the valley and flattens out. This is about a tenth of a mile prior to the intersection with the Forney Creek Trail. Based on the wood plank walkways—some of them quite long—I am guessing that this area gets pretty muddy after a good rain.

Wooden walkways on the Forney Ridge Trail

Wooden walkways on the Forney Ridge Trail

Stay straight at the Forney Creek Trail intersection to reach Andrews Bald, a little less than a mile away. A small mountain stands between you and the Bald, and at this point the trail begins to make a mild ascent, though this is nowhere as steep as the descent into the valley from the parking area (which wasn’t bad either). The climb doesn’t last long, and after a half mile the trail begins to make its way down the other side of the mountain. At the bottom lies Andrews Bald, 1.9 miles into the hike.

Terrain once the trail passes the Forney Creek Trail intersection

Terrain once the trail passes the Forney Creek Trail intersection

Once you reach the bottom of the small mountain you will come into a clearing, but this is not the Bald. Keep on hiking for another 500 feet and you will come to what appears to be a meadow, or bald, and you have a clear and sweeping vista of the surrounding Smoky Mountains. It took me just about an hour to reach the viewing area.

Open field at Andrews Bald

Open field at Andrews Bald

Panoramic view from Andrews Bald (click to enlarge)

Panoramic view from Andrews Bald (click to enlarge)

The hike back isn’t much harder than the hike out. The small mountain you crossed after coming to the Forney Creek Trail is the same difficulty either way, for you are just going up one side and down the other. Of course you have the climb back out of the valley to Clingmans Dome, which is of moderate difficulty. I made the round-trip hike in about two hours, which included time to get photos at Andrews Bald.

It was now around noon on a nice fall day, and by this time the parking lot was packed. Cars circled three deep looking for a space. It goes without saying, if you plan to hike any of the trails at Clingmans Dome on a summer weekend or anytime during the fall, arrive early. I was there at 8 AM and had no problem getting a parking space. Three hours later cars were parked over a mile down Clingmans Dome Road.

Mid-day crowds at Clingmans Dome

Mid-day crowds at Clingmans Dome

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Last updated on March 15, 2020
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