In the days before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, herders kept livestock up in the high mountains. These herds performed something of a service, keeping the naturally occurring mountain balds free from the encroaching brush.
So what is a bald? It’s essentially a pasture in higher elevations where trees are few. This is possibly due to short or non-existent growing seasons.
There is some thought that European early settlers cleared balds for grazing. However, evidence exists that the balds pre-date settlers.
After the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service allowed nature to start reclaiming the balds. However, a poll in the early 80s determined that park visitors want the balds – which offer spectacular views – to be kept clear.
Today, Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald are two of the remaining balds in the Great Smoky Mountains, although Max Patch is located nearby just to the northeast of the park.
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How long is the Andrews Bald hike?
The hike to Andrews Bald is 1.8 miles via the Forney Ridge Trailhead at the Clingmans Dome parking area.
Experienced hikers should be able to make the 3.6-mile, round-trip hike in about three hours.
Andrews Bald is a double peak, a single mountain that has two summits. It is located along Forney Ridge, south of Clingmans Dome. It is the 62nd-highest peak in North Carolina and is located entirely in Swain County.
However, the trail to reach it starts in Tennessee.
You can continue along the Forney Ridge hiking trail past the bald. In total, it’s about 5.6 miles down to the Springhouse Branch Trail.
How do you get to Andrews Bald?
The hike via Forney Ridge Trail begins from the Clingmans Dome parking lot. After a descent, the trail diverts to the right at mile 1.1. After some elevation gain, you will reach the grassy bald.
The bald itself is entirely located within Swain County, North Carolina. But the Andrews Bald Trailhead is in Tennessee, near the Clingmans Dome parking lot.
The trail also intersects with the Appalachian Trail.
Read Also: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Clingmans Dome
How hard is the hike to Andrews Bald?
The trail itself is moderately difficult and is fit for families or groups who are used to hiking.
Due to the rocky terrain, the trek can be somewhat strenuous. However, the pasture at the bald is a nice place to rest and regain your energy for the climb back, which features about a 1,200-foot elevation change.
Trail conditions have generally improved from previous decades and it is generally considered a gorgeous trail if not an easy hike.
The popular trail features scenic views and the bald itself offers great views of the surrounding mountains.
When is the best time to hike to Andrews Bald?
Summer is a popular time to visit Andrews Bald. Though it will be warm outside, temperatures will be cooler in the higher elevations.
Visitors will be able to see azaleas and catawba rhododendrons bloom from mid to late June.
The NPS also says that hikers can sometimes find patches of wild blackberries and raspberries, Fraser firs and bluets.
Bluets are small, blue wildflowers. They are sometimes called innocence or Quaker ladies.
Can you hike to Andrews Bald in the winter?
You can, but be prepared for some extra hiking due to road closures.
Clingmans Dome Road is closed to vehicle traffic from early December through late March. You can hike the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road as long as the conditions allow.
Remember, it’s a 14-mile roundtrip adventure with a significant elevation gain.
What you should know before you go
One of the most important things to remember is the seasonal road closure on Clingmans Dome Road. The road is closed from Nov. 30 through April 1.
Also, pets are not allowed on the trail. There are only two pet-friendly trails in the Smoky Mountains, the Gatlinburg Trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee River Trail near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
It’s also important to note that beginning March 1, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will launch the Park it Forward program.
This means all visitors will need to buy and display a valid parking tag for any vehicle parking for more than 15 minutes. Tags can be purchased on Recreation.gov.
As you visit, remember to follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Essentially, respect visitors around you, leave what you find, respect the wildlife and dispose of any waste properly.
Who is Andrews Bald named after?
Andrews Bald is named after cattle herder Andres Thompson who brought livestock up into the high mountains in the 1840s.
Interestingly, unlike Max Patch and Gregory Bald, Andrews Bald doesn’t cover the summit. It spreads out along the southern slope.
For years, a cabin stood near the top of the bald and was likely used as a herder’s shack as cattle herders would stay high up in the mountains with their flocks for days or even weeks at a time.
For more on life near Gregory Bald, read about the last family living in Cades Cove and Kermit Caughron, who used to herd cattle at the bald.
The cattle could graze up in the mountains, in part, because each fall the mountain people would set fires to beat back the brush and make way for the grasses to grow fresh and new in the spring. Now, the forest has taken those lands back for itself.
“They burn it. I can remember them burning those big brush fires up there,” Kermit’s son Rex said. “I don’t guess they’ll see that again. They’re gonna let nature take its course.”
Read Also: Cades Cove History: The Last Family To Have Lived in Cades Cove
Which bald is easier to access, Gregory Bald or Andrews Bald?
Well, if Rex Caughron is to be believed – and he is – it’s Andrews.
Though his dad spent a lot of time at Gregory Bald herding cattle as a young man, Rex said he never much liked that hike himself.
“I only made it to Gregory three times in my life,” he said. “It wasn’t that hard of a walk, but I didn’t enjoy going to Gregory Bald.”
In contrast, the Forney Ridge Trail is generally considered a great hike and is a really popular hike at higher elevations.
So between the Andrews Bald hike and the Gregory Bald hike, Andrews Bald is largely preferred. It is, however, a matter of personal preference as to which has the best views.
Actually, if you want easier access to a bald, you might try getting out of the National Park and heading to Max Patch.
Read Also: How Do You Access Max Patch NC? Tips on Hiking, Wildlife, What To Wear
What is Max Patch?
Max Patch is a bald in the Appalachian mountains, used for pasture land for sheep and cattle in the 1800s.
It is a treeless, grassy meadow on a mountaintop. And it has 360-degree panoramic views. Max Patch is located in the Pisgah National Forest at the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
A major landmark on the Appalachian Trail, it’s accessible from the North Carolina side from Hot Springs on NC 209 and from Exit 7 on the North Carolina side of I-40.
There’s also a third route through Del Rio in Cocke County Tennessee, but I don’t recommend it.
The Max Patch parking lot is there and all you have to do is hike up the modest hill to the peak. And on a clear day, it offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Still, I would say if the weather has been rainy, don’t attempt to reach Max Patch from either side without a four-wheel drive. And I’d get a fairly good idea of the predicted weather before taking a family for a picnic.
However, if you’re not up for a significant hike, Max Patch is the Southern Appalachian Mountains bald for you.
Have you hiked to Andrews Bald or any other balds in the Smokies? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
2 thoughts on “How Do You Get to Andrews Bald? What To Know Before You Go”
Its the most beautiful place in the Smokies as far as my husband and I are concerned ! We’ve been hiking it since the 1970’s, before the NPS added all those log steps to the trail! Not so sure which way was easier…
When the Flame Azalea and Rhododendron bloom, its absolutely incredible. So grateful for all my hikes up there.
It’s easy in and moderate out. Good for families and older seasoned citizens in good condition. The views are good on a clear day.