Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald is a popular attraction (if you can call it an attraction) in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Being a high elevation bald (almost 6000 feet), it offers some of the best views in the park.  The trail to Andrews Bald is only 1.8 miles, so within reach of even the most casual hikers.  In June, this bald is ablaze with Catawba Rhododendrons.  Needless to say, Andrews Bald gets a lot of visitors.

Andrews Bald is named for Andres Thompson.  Andres used to bring his cattle up to the bald during the 1840s.  Later on he moved his family to the bald.  There is no evidence of a homestead, but almost anywhere the house may have been located would have offered a fantastic view.

There is much speculation about how the balds along the southern Appalachians were formed, but it is certain they were used for cattle grazing during the summer months in the 1800s.  Under the management of the National Park most of these grassy mountaintops are returning to their natural state as trees take over.  Only two balds within the Park are being maintained as grassy balds--Gregory Bald and Andrews Bald.  Along the edge of these large expanses of grass are native azaleas and rhododendrons.

We’ve been to Andrews Bald several times over the years, but wanted to go again just to check out the new trail.  We’d heard good things about this stretch of reconstructed trail built in 2008 to replace the badly worn, rocky, rutted, and muddy old trail.

Because Andrews Bald offers such good views, we waited for a clear day.  The fact that it occurred on Memorial Day weekend was unfortunate, but we got up very early and rushed off up the mountain hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds.  We did and had a whole hour on the bald all to ourselves.

One of the few views we had from the trail before reaching Andrews Bald
The shortest access to Andrews Bald is via Forney Ridge Trail at Clingman’s Dome parking lot.  From the trailhead it is a 1.8 mile hike to Andrews Bald.  The first mile of the trail is steadily downhill to the junction with Forney Creek Trail.  Continuing on Forney Ridge the trail climbs slightly to Andrews Bald.

We were mighty impressed with the new trail.  The workmanship was superb.  I can’t even describe the rock steps; you’ll just have to see for yourself in the photos.  This trail is fine, very fine.  And, it’s my understanding that most of the work was done by volunteers.  Thank you, trail crew.

As we entered the bald, it seemed a little grown up with rhododendron and trees, but in another hundred feet or so we were in the open with a large grassy area surrounded by a few trees and lots of budding Catawba rhododendron.  Catawba rhododendron is a much shorter bush with smaller leaves than the Rosebay rhododendron we see at lower elevations.  It was just budding when we were there.  I expect in another week it will be in full bloom.  What a show that will be.  We may go back just to see that display.
Entering the bald
This was a short hike and we didn’t have anything else planned for the day, so intended to stay a while.  We’d packed a thermos of coffee and brought along some chocolate pound cake.  We found a spot with a view and made ourselves a nest.  Nothing could’ve been finer.  The most amazing thing was the absence of other people.  We had the whole bald to ourselves.

After an hour or so and after we’d drank all the coffee, we packed up to leave.  We hadn’t gone many steps before we started seeing all those other folks we’d expected.  They were coming in droves.  By the time we got back to the parking lot, which is huge, they were driving in circles just waiting for anyone to leave.  Going early was the thing to do.

Dark-eyed junco
The dark-eyed junco doesn't migrate north and south, but stays in the park year round.  He migrates up and down the mountain with the seasons.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. We were up there in the parking lot Saturday morning heading on a backpacking trip from the AT/Hazel Creek/Lakeshore trail. My inlaws were probably some of the folks that came out in droves...ha! They wanted to see the Azaleas and headed off that direction as we headed toward the dome. Did you guys get to see them, or are they already past peak?

    1. Becca, we were there on Sunday. I bet it really was crowded on Saturday. Probably be another week for the azaleas. We'll probably go back this weekend if the weather is good. I'm gonna do that AT/Hazel Creek hike in July in the uphill direction. Hope you had a good backpack.

  2. Sounds like a hike I might be able to do if I take a lunch. Maybe my hip and back will be better by the end of June. Guess I'll miss the flowers though...

    1. Judy, it's a nice hike even if there are no flowers.

  3. Those stone steps are amazing. That must have taken an incredible amount of hard work to build those.

    You're absolutely right about the views - spectacular.