Andrews Bald (6-28-15)
Andrew's Bald has been on my radar for quite some time but for some reason, up to this point, I hadn't made a point of visiting this extraordinary summit. Located just off the main spine of the Smoky Mountains, a mere mile-and-a-half by trail from Clingman's Dome, Andrew's Bald is the highest of the Smokies 'balds' and commands some of the National Parks most spectacular views. Though not as expansive as some of the other balds in the region, the mountains' thick carpet of grass and its smattering of firs and laurels set against a sweeping backdrop of unbroken mountains and valley's make this a uniquely beautiful place. On top of all this, leading to the bald, is the fantastic Forney Ridge Trail which in recent years has experienced a total makeover to accommodate the trails relatively heavy traffic. Passing through an amazing high-elevation forest of red spruce and balsam fir the trail is a joy to walk, especially on a crisp early summer day such as this one was.
Our route would begin at the horribly overcrowded Clingman's Dome Parking Area. There was no way to avoid it, it was about the prettiest weekend day in some time so the crowds were to be expected. Our original plan was to head straight for the bald but it was such a uniquely crisp and clear day for late June we figured we shouldn't pass up a quick visit to the spaceship atop Clingman's Dome, highest peak in the Smokies. Thus our hike turned into a 'lollipop' loop as we hiked to the top of the Dome then followed the Appalachian Trail west a short ways before finally descending towards Andrew's Bald itself.
It took me a while to finally visit this wonderful peak but I couldn't have picked a finer day to do it. After two solid weeks of humid temps pushing 90-degrees in the valley's a powerful cold front had swept the atmosphere clean the night before leaving views like I've never seen from the Smokies in June. Though we unfortunately missed the big azalea bloom it was still a spectacular and refreshingly memorable day in the high southern mountains...come on along...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.556764, -83.496100
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 5.5 miles Hike Duration: 3:15
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 5,750' Max. Elevation: 6,643'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,250' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 227'
Trails Used (blaze color): Appalachian (white), Clingman's Dome Summit (unblazed), Forney Ridge (unblazed)