We started off Road Trip 2018 with a hike out to Andrews Bald in the Smokies. We had actually just done this hike the week before when we attempted an out and back on the Forney Ridge Trail. The first part of the hike was so delightful--through high pine forest and out to an open grassy bald--that we decided it was just right to try again. We were also hoping that the rhododendron and flame azalea would be in bloom but alas, we were still too early in the season.
This hike starts on the Forney Ridge Trail in the Clingmans Dome parking lot, just to the left as you start heading towards the observation tower. The trail drops and then rises again, never too steeply. Through the forest, trail maintainers have installed wooden planks to prevent trail erosion and to help if the trail is muddy. These are really fun to walk on, even when it's not muddy!
The length and terrain of this trail out to Andrews Bald make it a perfect choice for a day hike in the Smokies regardless of age or physical fitness. When we were there on this trip, we passed a group of families that were hiking with nearly 10 children under the age of 5. Some were in hiking carriers but most were doing the whole hike by foot. It may have taken them awhile to get all those little feet out and back, but they did it with mostly smiles across their faces.
When you finish your hike, you can decide if you still have enough juice for the steep climb up to the Clingman's Dome observation tower. It's paved but can get steep and the elevation can add some difficulty to breathing. But, it's quite a view and worth the extra ~1 mile effort if you're wanting to extend your time in the high mountains of the Smokies.
Pro Tips: In the high mountains, purple rhododendron and orange flame azalea bloom in mid-June, most often between June 12th and June 20th. These wildflowers often add a stunning touch to already breathtaking views on open balds and mountaintops.
Also, if you are trying to hike all the miles in the Smokies, you'll need to tackle the full Forney Ridge Trail at some point. We found it to be overgrown, untended, and tedious. Bring poles for sure, and take a minute to consider doing it as a one way hike from the parking lot down to a second car.