Found primarily in the southern Appalachians, Balds are defined as ‘mountain summits or crests covered primarily by thick vegetation of native grasses or shrubs occurring in areas where heavy forest growth would be expected.’
Andrews Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains is one of two grassy balds maintained by the park service and at 5,920 feet it is also the highest. The other is Gregory Bald, located near Cades Cove, at 4,949 feet.
Andrews Bald is a great hiking destination for those who wish to experience gorgeous panoramic views in the Smoky Mountain Highlands.
The trailhead begins from the Clingmans Dome parking area and to get there you need to drive from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, 13.2 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome Road. From there you turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and drive another 7 miles all the way to the end of the road into the Clingmans Dome parking area. If you’re coming from Cherokee you’ll drive 20 miles north to reach the Clingmans Dome Road. (Note: Due to the recent landslide on Newfound Gap Rd. Clingmans Dome will be unaccessible from the Cherokee side of the park until probably early summer 2013).
Once at the parking area you begin your trek to Andrews Bald via the Forney Ridge Trail, which is located near the far end of the parking lot. You’ll see a short access trail that descends downward near the beginning of the paved path up to the Clingmans Dome Tower. It is a 1.8 mile one-way hike to Andrews Bald with an elevation change of 1,200 ft. along the way. The beginning of the trail features a steep descent and some rough, rocky terrain to traverse but it was much improved in recent years thanks to a ‘Trails Forever’ project that made much needed improvements to the trail.
Unlike Gregory Bald, Andrews Bald doesn’t cover the entire summit. Instead it spreads out along the south slope. It does however provide several acres of open meadow space in which to relax, picnic or just be immersed in the breathtaking views that surround you. In late spring and early summer Andrews Bald is a great place to view wonderful displays of azalea and rhododendron blooms.
How grassy balds form is still somewhat of a mystery. Although there is some evidence that the grassy balds have natural origins, once national parks and national forests were created, thereby eliminating livestock grazing, the balds began to be re-claimed by the forests.
Andrews Bald was likely named after an early settler by the name of Andres Thompson who frequented the mountain during hunting excursions.
So, if you’re in the Clingmans Dome area and you’re looking for a way to get away from the crowds head for Andrews Bald. It’s well worth the time and effort it takes to get there and more than likely it will be a place you return to many times in the future.