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Andrews Bald has an elevation of 5,920 feet, making it the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountain is one of two grassy balds maintained in the range by the park service. The other is Gregory Bald, in the western Smokies. The hike is about 3.6 miles roundtrip.
The Forney Ridge hiking trail to Andrews Bald begins at the Clingmans Dome parking area. The 1.8-mile trail climbs about 1,000 feet in elevation and is uphill and rocky in places. This trailhead is not accessible December to April, since the road to Clingmans Dome is closed in winter months and when the weather is uncertain at that elevation. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended. No dogs are allowed.
Andrews Bald is a double peak situated along Forney Ridge, just south of Clingmans Dome. The hike begins in Tennessee, and ends in North Carolina.
How and why grassy balds form is a mystery. Cattle grazing maintained the balds throughout the 19th-century, but the forest started reclaiming them after the formation of the national park in the 1930s.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome is 6643 feet. It’s the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The observation tower on Clingmans Dome offers 360 views of the Smokies if you are willing to climb the steep, half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
On clear days views expand over a 100 miles. Clouds, precipitation, and temperatures 10 to 20 degrees cooler than lowlands are common at Clingmans Dome. The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome’s make the spruce-fir forest a rainforest. Proper preparation by dressing in layers bringing a jacket, even in summer, is best.
The road leading to Clingmans Dome is closed from December 1 through March 31, and whenever weather conditions require.
Along the seven mile road to Clingmans Dome, there are pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top.
Pets and bicycles are not permitted
Charles Bunion Hike
Perhaps the oddest-named mountain peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers the most amazing views is the Charles Bunion Hike. The rocky, treeless summit has wonderful panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains, definitely one of the best in the entire park. It’s a 4-mile moderate hike from Newfound Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. The climb is more than 1,600 feet but , it’s gradual. Pack a lunch for an amazing picnic spot.
With a couple of stops, it takes about two hours to hike and about 1.5 hours to hike down.
Drive on Newfound Gap Road to Newfound Gap parking lot which is 13.2 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trailhead is to the left of the overlook, at the end of the parking lot near the restrooms.
The Chimney Tops Trail is approximately 6.9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
On October 6, 2017, Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened the Chimney Tops Trail to a newly constructed observation point. The trail was closed for almost a full year because of the November 2016 wildfire. The fire destroyed the pinnacles, and is now considered unsafe. While the trail was closed park crews constructed a new observation deck, located roughly a quarter-mile below the actual summit, which provides views of Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops pinnacles.
The trail length and its outstanding panoramic views from the summit area is less than 2 miles. This is a very steep hike. The second part of the hike in order to reach the summit, hikers have to climb more than 960 feet over the course of the last mile.
Chimney Tops has one the best views. The first section of the trail follows along Road Prong Creek. You will cross several footbridges along the .9-miles route to Beech Flats. In the spring and summer, there are wildflowers. Afterwards, the hike up th steep terrain will take you to the summit. At the top is a view of Mount LeConte!
The combination of wildflowers, a small waterfall, and the remains of an old settlement highlight many of the great things about the Smokies. While you probably won’t be alone on the Porters Creek Trail, you’ll definitely have plenty to see.
The trailhead is located 4.1 miles on Greenbrier Road. There will be a gate and trail sign.
This trail climbs 1500 feet over 3.6 miles to Campsite #31. You will climb through Greenbrier Cove, an old settlement. At mile .4, you’ll see the foundation and walls of several homes. At mile .7, you’ll cross a sturdy bridge over Long Branch. After the bridge are stairs that go to the Ownby Cemetery. Later you enter Porters Flat where Bushy Mountain Trail intersects with Porters Trail. As you go off to the left, the trail narrows and follows Porters Creek. At mile 1.5, you will cross a log crossing.
What comes next is an area full of trees and flowers that bloom in the spring. At mile 1.8 is a 40′ waterfall named Fern Falls. A small side trail leads up to the falls. From here, Porters Creek Trail continues to climb until mile 3.6, where you see the signpost for Campsite #31.
In April and May you can see over 30-40 different species of wildflowers. There are a great variety of ferns in the area as well.
After a day of hiking, you will need a place to relax and soothe your muscles. What better place than at one of the My Bearfoot Cabins.
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, Owners
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