Friday, July 27, 2012

Forney Ridge Trail

With the heat of summer, we keep looking for high elevation trails for our hiking adventures.  It seems we are always drawn to the trails off Clingmans Dome Road in the Smokies.  It was a toss-up between Forney Ridge and Forney Creek.  I voted for Forney Ridge because it was a little less steep and because it went over Andrews Bald.  We didn’t want to do the entire length of the trail down and back up again, so our plan was to hike down for as long as we wanted then turn around and CLIMB back up to the car.

Found this pink turtlehead at the beginning of our hike
Forney Ridge trailhead is at the end of Clingmans Dome Road.  There is a huge parking lot, but during summer months it fills up fast, particularly on a clear day.  We arrived about 9 AM and there were still plenty of spaces to park.

Forney Ridge is a popular trail as far as Andrews Bald.  Beyond the Bald, the trail is often deserted as are most of the trails in the Smokies even during the peak summer season.  It’s always amazing to me that we can spend a whole day on a hike and never see anyone.  Smoky Mountains is the most visited of all the National Parks, but most of those visitors never get off the pavement.  There are a few who venture down a trail to a waterfall or other feature, but rarely hike more than 3 miles from the road.  Even though the Smokies has millions of visitors each year, if you’re looking for solitude, this is the place to find it.

The 1.8 miles to Andrews Bald has been refurbished recently and is now a very fine trail.  We hiked this section earlier in the summer and I posted a couple photos of the trail in that blog entry.  The major draw for Andrews Bald are the azaleas which bloom in late June or early July.  That’s past now, so we saw very few people on this section of trail.  It offered for us just what we wanted--a cool place to hike.

We didn’t have azaleas to ooh and aah about, but there were a few flowers.  Most notably were the Turk’s Cap lilies.  I love to see these on the trail.

We also saw blue bead lily.  In the spring this has a yellow-green bell-shaped flower which is pretty, but I think I like the bright blue bead just as well.

There was also plenty Filmy Angelica.  It’s in the parsnip family and the bees seem to love it.  I kept my distance.

Since the bad storm a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed several blowdowns along the trails we’ve been hiking.  If we see something that needs attention, we don’t mind taking care of it so long as it’s not a major job.  Gene often carries a bow saw for this sort of light trail maintenance.  He didn’t have his saw on this hike, so got out the Swiss Army knife to cut back this dead branch that was hanging over the trail right at eye level.

The trail is a steady downhill from Clingmans Dome Road with just a slight uphill to Andrews Bald.  After crossing the Bald the trail drops steadily and continues to the junction with Springhouse Branch Trail.  We went down a little way, but not too far.  I think we were both thinking about that climb to get back to the car.  Also, it had rained recently and the trail was pretty wet.  A steep, wet trail required more work than what we were willing to give.  We went back to the Bald, spread out a poncho to sit on and just chilled out for a while.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

Forney Ridge Trail runs a total distance of 5.5 miles between Clingmans Dome Road and Springhouse Branch Trail.  It’s possible to make a loop hike combining Forney Ridge, Springhouse Branch, and Forney Creek Trails.  That’s about a 20 mile hike and not something I want to do in a day.  Luckily, there are several backcountry campsites along Forney Creek Trail making this a nice backpacking loop.

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


  1. The diversity of wildflowers in the Smokies is amazing. Our turk's cap will be blooming soon and I'm looking forward it now that we've finally gotten some rain. You don't mention bugs much, are mosquitoes or ticks a problem at a specific time or place? I get headaches from insect repellent so it's always a factor in our travel plans.

    1. There are bugs, but they don't seem to be too bad this year. The mosquitoes are out, especially in wet areas. I notice gnats on horse trails. I've noticed some kind of biting fly the past week or so. I rarely use insect repellent myself, but I did on Wednesday for the mosquitoes. One of the things we noticed on our camping trip last week was the lack of bugs and the ladies made several comments about that. Maybe it was just too darn hot even for the bugs.