TO THE TRAILHEAD: Take Clingmans Dome Road for 7 miles to its end at the parking area for the Clingmans Dome Tower. You will go to the left side of the parking area to find the Forney Ridge Trail to begin the hike. Be advised that Clingmans Dome Road is closed during the winter, so if you want to do the hike during those months you will have to hike the 7 miles from Newfound Gap to the Forney Ridge trailhead.
THE HIKE: This moderate, 9.8 mile hike offers some of the best hiking in the park. As you start on the Forney Ridge Trail, you are likely to be bombarded by people. The Clingmans Dome area is almost perpetually busy, and Andrews Bald, which shares the Forney Ridge Trail, is one of the busiest hikes in the Smokies. But fear not. You will leave most of these people behind in less than 5 minutes. Just .1 mile from starting, take the trail junction to the right onto Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail. Very rarely will anyone follow you onto the trail. It receives less than a tenth of the traffic of Andrews Bald. As you leave the throngs of people behind, you can really start to take in your surroundings. You are doing a lot of walking along the crest of the Smokies, and given the fact that you are nearly 6,500 feet in elevation, the views are terrific most of the way. The trail goes uphill for the next portion of the hike, but nothing too strenuous. At .6 mile, you will reach Mount Buckley and an intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Turn left here.
At this point, the trail will mostly descend. There are some uphills along this section, but you are steadily losing elevation. You will still have views that seem to go on forever intertwined with brief periods between the trees. With all the ridge line walking on this hike, sunscreen can be a good idea, even in winter. The elevation with the harsh UV rays can make you a lobster in no time. Sunglasses are also an excellent idea.
Where do you want to look? North Carolina? Tennessee? Gatlinburg? Mount LeConte? It seems that the options are endless throughout this trail. At the 2.6 mile mark, you reach another trail intersection with the Goshen Prong Trail. Stay straight on the AT.
3.4 miles in you will pass by one of the hundreds of shelters along the Appalachian Trail. This one is the Double Spring Gap Shelter. Overnight stays here are allowed with advanced reservations, and since this trail is along the AT, you will want to make your reservations as soon as possible. There is a second shelter along this trail as well. We will cover that below.
Continuing from the shelter the trail continues steadily downward until you get to the point were the trail narrows and have drop-offs all around you. Once you pass The Narrows, the trail will begin the sharpest ascent of the hike. They want to make sure you have to work to get to the bald, and it is a grind. Luckily, it does not last very long. Only about the last 1/2 mile or so is tough. At 4.9 miles in you will reach Silers Bald.
Compared with Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald, this one does not offer the panoramic views and wide open spaces that you see in the others. It is full of overgrowth and trees that the park service has allowed to mostly reclaim the area. But there are still great views to be had here as you explore around the corners here at the summit. And it is a great place to relax and take in the breezes that can be very refreshing after a hard day’s work. If you want to increase your views, simply keep walking along the trail a little further. Views open up again shortly after moving forward and just .3 mile past Silers Bald is Silers Bald Shelter which offers another place to stay for the night or simply relax for awhile before making your journey back.
Most of the trail back to the trailhead is uphill to get back to your car. But again, with an elevation change of only 1200 feet, it is not too bad. The best hikes in the park tend to be the ones that make you work for it. At nearly 10 miles in length, this one is a challenge without being overwhelming. Do keep in mind that this area of the park tends to be much cooler than the towns below. You can expect a good 15-20 degree difference, so be sure to plan ahead with your clothing.