Saturday, June 13, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Forney Ridge and Forney Creek Loop

I drove over to Great Smoky Mountains National Park today to add to my hiking mileage total. I drove up to Newfound Gap and over to the Clingmans Dome parking area for the start of my hike on the Forney Ridge and Forney Creek Loop. I started in beautiful morning conditions at the parking area
view from Dome parking
and quickly hit the trail which started with a pretty steep descent.
trailhead

The Forney Ridge Trail was very well maintained. I'm guessing it gets a lot of use from those wanting to make the hike over to Andrews Bald. I hiked on some puncheon
bog bridges
and past a few snails
snail
and soon found myself at Andrews Bald.
Andrews Bald
The scene at Andrews Bald was pretty nice. There were great views
view from Andrews Bald
and lots of flame azalea, some of it in bloom
azalea 1
others not quite ready yet.
azalea buds
Best of all I had it all to myself!

I followed the Forney Ridge Trail past the bald and its condition deteriorated rapidly. The first two miles beyond Andrews Bald the trail was overgrown, rocky, rooty, and often on a steep muddy incline.
fat hiker
There was still lots of flame azalea in bloom.
azalea 2
Besides the azalea, I saw many toads hopping across the trail.
camo toad
I stopped to admire a large oak tree for a bit,
big tree
before continuing on to the Springhouse Branch Trail.
junction

After a short time hiking on the Springhouse Branch Trail, I spotted a nice looking log to sit on and stopped for a snack.
stopped for snack
As I was sitting there I had a feeling I was being watched. Sure enough, as I looked around I spotted a toad peeking out from a crack in the wood of the log.
toad peeking out
After my snack I continued on descending through azalea and elderberry
elderberry flowers
to the junction with the Forney Creek Trail. At the trail junction is campsite #71 and the site of an old CCC camp. There were lots of building foundations,
campsite 71
old debris around,
garbage
and the remains of a large chimney.
big chimney

After exploring the site of the CCC camp I continued on ascending the mostly gentle grades of the Forney Creek Trail. It follows an old rail bed most of the way and every now and then I would see evidence of the railroad era, like old rails. I passed some really well done rock work at a switchback on the former rail line
rock wall trilside
and sometimes followed very close to the trail's namesake Forney Creek.
cascading water
A few flowers bloomed and decorated the sides of the trail,
pretty pink flowers
but this time of the year is not the best for looking for wildflowers.

After crossing Forney Creek 6 times (and thoroughly soaking my boots in the process) I found myself at a campsite. Campsite #68 is divided into a lower and upper site, separated by .4 mile. I took a snack break at the lower site and then made my way up to the upper one. There were two waterfalls at the upper site.
lower slide falls
Actually, they were more like sliding rocks.
upper slide falls
There was also evidence of the railroad/logging era. A train wheel
train wheel
and lots of cable scattered around.
cable
By this part of the hike I was really starting to get tired. It was slow going as I made my way back to the Forney Ridge Trail for the last part of my hike. My slow pace allowed me to really admire the stone trail work that had been done to this upper section of trail.  
stone trail work

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