Hike to a picturesque mountaintop meadow on Andrews Bald, following the Forney Ridge Trail from the craggy heights of Clingman’s Dome and catching stunning views of the southern Great Smoky Mountains.
LOCATION:in the Great Smoky Mountains
It’s touted as the highest mountain bald in the Smokies. Andrews Bald is the lesser known, albeit just as beautiful, neighbor to its uphill ally, Clingman’s Dome. It’s known for its rugged and craggy access along the Forney Ridge Trail. And the wildflower-covered meadow on Andrews is sure to leave a lasting impression. It’s undoubtedly one of the most serene vantage points of the southern Smoky Mountains.
This is a popular hike, without a doubt. The modest elevation gain over this three-and-a-half mile (round trip) adventure makes this hike a priority hike for those in the Clingman’s area. But it’s a fantastic hike for families willing to brave some moderate elevation change. And it’s pretty perfect for a sunrise or sunset, too.
Andrews Bald on the Forney Ridge Trail: the hike
The adventure begins at the far western edge of the Clingman’s Dome parking area (view maps and driving directions). As with many hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an early start (particularly during peak the summer season) is best. Especially with this trail’s proximity to perhaps the most popular attraction in the park: Clingman’s Dome.
The Forney Ridge Trail descends along its namesake ridge, traversing the southern flank of Clingman’s Dome. The trail soon reaches an intersection with the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail, just one-tenth of a mile from the trailhead. This route takes a sharp left turn at the intersection. The hike veers southbound and continuing to follow Forney Ridge.
The trail nets the majority of its outbound descent in this first mile. The hike reaches an intersection of the Forney Creek Trail, which leads to the park’s Backcountry Campsite 68 and the Jones Creek Trail. This route veers left at the intersection, continuing its southbound route another seven-tenths of a mile to the bald. The trail follows a well-established single track of wooden bridges and rock stairs. The preeminent corridor of spruce-fir, fern, and pine needles gradually gives way to grassy pastures. The trail margins widen as the alpine grassland approaches. A wooden sign signifies the splendid panorama lies just 500 feet beyond.
Upon entering the bald, the vastness of the view becomes immediately apparent. Large swaths of forest become visible from its 5,920 feet vantage, framed by groves of scarlet colored flame azalea, rhododendron, and alpine grasses. These colorful native shrubs are best viewed during the early summer months when their blossoms are most vibrant.
Views to the south reveal the immense distance of the fringes of Fontana Lake and its backdrop, the mountains of the Nantahala National Forest, including Wesser Bald and Cheoah Bald. While its summit views face predominantly south and west, sunrise is a spectacular time of day for Andrews Bald. The first rays of light blanket Welch Ridge Trail and Mule Gap to the west, as well as the Fontana Lake Valley to the south, exposing the vertical topography of the region.
Finding a fantastic place for a summit picnic is perhaps the easiest aspect of this hike. Take your pick from the acres of green pastures along the trail, with views abounding.
After soaking up the beauty, the return hike to the trailhead is nearly entirely uphill, climbing nearly 400 feet and retracing its outbound route. Thanks to major trail improvements, including the plethora of stone stairs placed by the Friends of the Smokies, this hike is often enjoyed by adventurers of all ages. Though the return route is a workout, indeed. The hike reaches the trailhead at just under 3.5 miles, completing the adventure.
More of our favorite Smoky Mountain adventures
The Smokies are simply splendid – and outdoor adventures abound in this beautiful National Park. Follow the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Le Conte. The hike explores stunning landscapes and summit views, and visit the high-elevation Mount Le Conte lodge at the top of this 6500 foot, towering summit. Hike a scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail and Chestnut Branch trail to the summit of Mt Cammerer, and visit the historic western-style fire lookout tower on its mountaintop. Explore the ultra-scenic Cades Cove, and hike to the thundering cascades at Abrams Falls. Follow the Chimney Tops Trail to expansive views of an enormous stone pinnacle and nearby Mt LeConte. Hike the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, catching stunning high-elevation views from Newfound Gap to a rocky, rugged precipice. Or check out our full list of our favorite hikes in the Smoky Mountains for more inspiration on ways to explore this especially scenic stretch of the South.
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
Free parking is available at the Clingman's Dome parking area.
35.556950, -83.496267 // N35 33.417 W83 29.776