We love The Smokies…there’s no denying that. I am always looking for great experiences for our family outside of the usual tourist-y spots. I really wanted to hike on a recent trip so I consulted one of my favorite hiking books: Day Hikes of the Smokies. I decided on Forney Ridge Trail that ends in the breathtaking, Andrew’s Bald. Round trip the hike is 3.5 miles and ranked as moderate in my book. One problem: the trail head is located at Clingman’s Dome (you know, that awesome, busy, popular spot that can back up traffic for miles….ugh!). Well, some days, much to my family’s chagrin, I cannot be stopped! We filled our water bottles, grabbed some snacks and hit the road.
To get to the Trail Head, you’ll follow NewFound Gap road, then watch for the signs for Clingman’s Dome. On this day our family (true to form) just couldn’t get up and go early enough to beat the crowds. We knew we were in for some traffic. We packed our patient hats (okay, so maybe not really, but it sounds good..and if you get started late like we did, I suggest you remember to pack yours!) and headed on our way. The beauty along Newfound Gap road should not be taken for granted. Make the passengers in the car look out the window…SO. MUCH. BEAUTY. Driver: keep your eyes on the road-twists, turns and tourists. There are many pull-offs where you can stop and take pictures. Once you see the signs for Clingman’s Dome, follow them until you reach the parking lot. If you’re like us, you’ll circle and wait for someone to leave…seriously…all the spots were full and we had to just keep driving until we stalked someone on the way to their car. We applied our sunscreen and headed for the line. The line for the bathroom. You’ll want to make this stop before you hit the trail…trust me!
Once you’ve taken care of the necessities, head toward the trailhead. You may miss it if you aren’t looking for it. Head toward the paved trail that takes you up to Clingman’s Dome. Of course, along the way you may want to stop for the obligatory photos with all the pretty scenery, read about all the places you can see on a clear day (if you’re lucky it is a clear day, if it’s not clear, you’re in the mountains so you’re lucky enough!). Once you’re closer, you’ll see a trail head off to the left before the Clingman’s Dome path…it’s marked if you’re looking. Most people aren’t and walk right by it.
When you start off, it’s rocky, full of roots and on our visit, HOT! HOT! HOT! There’s like, NO shade. Don’t worry…the payoff is tremendous. But not to worry, there are also areas with stairs made of rock . Once you’re on the trail a bit, you’ll have areas of shade and more dense forest that offer cooler temps. You’ll want to pay close attention since there are a couple of junctions on this trail. Follow the signs to Andrew’s Bald. The trail to the Bald is 1.7 miles. The final few feet before the bald are dense and green and you’ll notice the open space up ahead. When I was walking toward the clearing I was dizzy with anticipation. You could see the sunlight pouring in through the green trees. I knew the view was gonna be good. This hike did not disappoint. The views. The silence (I mean, what could possibly quiet my three kids…apparently great views!). Whoa.
So, we sat and enjoyed snacks, more water and the beauty. We admired, stood astonished, in awe at this world we’re in and basked in the sunlight Here’s a shot of me after we made it to the bald that my hubby snapped of me. Mom wins!
After lots of admiring (and finally a little complaining from the kids), we headed back toward the car a little quieter than before. No doubt we were all affected by nature that day. And maybe just a little tired.
Tips for hiking this trail:
-Pack plenty of water (at least a liter per person).
-Take snacks, or better yet pack a lunch and a blanket to enjoy the views while you eat.
-Remember to pack out what you pack in-Leave No Trace.
-Wear sensible shoes (for goodness sake, please no flip-flops, heels or open-toed dress sandals).
-Give yourself at least 3 hours if you have little ones hiking with you.
-Enjoy the scenery.