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Andrews Bald

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park

LENGTH: 1.8 miles (3.6 R.T.) SKILL: Novice to intermediate

PROS: Views, Wildflowers   CONS: Crowds, Road closed in Winter, rocky, wet, trail

Water: No     Notes: Highest bald in the park. Best in the Spring and Fall (Wildflowers)

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Balds of the Southern Appalachians

In the Southern Appalachians, there are dozens of high elevation "balds". Max Patch, Gregory Bald, Stratton Bald and Andrews Bald are some of the more well known. In the Smokies, as well as other areas, farmers would drive their livestock to the highest balds in the summer. Grazing the cattle would keep many of the balds free of trees. Today, maintenance of the balds is sometimes the only reason that some of these balds still exist. Andrews Bald must be maintained by the Park Service in order to retain its' wide open space.

The highest bald in the park

This is an easy and pleasant hike that begins at the third highest point in the eastern United States. Most any hiker with even the least amount of experience can do this hike without any difficulty. For this reason expect to see other hikers on this trail. No worries though, Andrews Bald is large enough to handle even the biggest crowds and still afford hikers with their own little picnic spot. The views make this a worthwhile hike, in spite of the company.

The hike begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot on Forney Ridge. Be sure to walk the .25 of a mile up the hill to the Clingmans Dome Tower. This is the third highest point in the Eastern U.S. and the highest point in the park.                         

 Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

If you don't see a very good view from here, and you probably won't, taking the trail to Andrews Bald will drop you far enough in elevation to put you below the mist that usually surrounds Clingmans dome. The large Red Spruce forest that covers the dome was cut during World War One to supply the materials for Allied airplanes. An elaborate flume was constructed here to move the cut logs to sawmills at lower elevations in the Deep Creek area. Luckily this forest has grown back and is a very beautiful sight to behold.                  

 The damage to the red spruce atop Clingmans dome.

The hike to "Andrews" begins at the parking lot edge. Before climbing to the observation tower and before the bathrooms, you will notice a trail to the left that has an immediate drop in elevation. This is the trail that leads to one of the best picnic spots in the park. It is very rocky, comprised of the unique sandstone that is called Anakeesta. The first unmarked trail to the right leads to a treatment plant that is for the bathrooms on the ridge. Not worth checking out, unless you have some nose-plugs.

This hike to the bald is only one mile and a half long (give or take).  The trail follows a mild grade through a Boreal forest commonly seen in northern New England. Old Growth Red Spruce, Fraser Firs, Moss and lots of Ferns. The trail stays wet from springs that use it as a path. In freezing weather the loose sandstone and ice can make this treacherous. These same springs "feed" a Boreal Bog type environment and a damp yet delightful odor fills the air.

Forney Creek Trail joins to the right at approximately the halfway point in this hike. After that, the trail travels through puddles  and bogs to the great open area called Andrews Bald.                           

Here, depending upon the season, the plant life puts on almost as good of a show as the views. In mid June the Rhododendron and Flame Azalea flowers burst into bloom with an accompanying sweet perfumery scent.  The fiery colors will take your breath away. In the Spring and the Fall wildflowers cover the Bald with a show of their own.                               

Year 'round the views are great. This is the spot where you spread out the blanket and open the well stocked wicker picnic basket. Lounging around in the sun and taking in the views are a great past time for the many couples who visit Andrews Bald.  Luckily the Park Service and dedicated volunteers maintain this area to keep the views open.                              

     The maintained bald is almost impeccable in appearance. Once again the Park Service has taken a small budget and stretched it to make to backcountry more enjoyable! Be sure to bring a wildflower identification guide anyway, it may add to your hiking experience to identify to wide variety of flora that is found here.      At the opposite side of the bald from where you entered, the trail continues down Forney Ridge to the Deep Creek area of the park. If you would like to continue, the views on this section of the trail are outstanding. The crowds diminish as you move away from Andrews Bald and you can always backtrack.


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