Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the country’s most visited national parks; here you will find an incredible array of wildlife and local plants. All summer long nature is in full bloom from trees and plants to the many creatures like bears who are making the most of the warm weather. The mountains offer cool running streams, whitewater rapids, and breathtaking waterfalls. The best way to see all that this incredible area has to offer is by spending your days hiking trails such as the Gregory Bald Trail.
If you are planning to complete the Gregory Bald Trail in a single day, you will need to get started early in the morning. The trailhead is located a little over 20 miles from Townsend, TN on Forge Creek Road. The good news is that you will not need to register for this hike, it is open to everyone, but you should still register your party with someone you trust. If you plan to do a little backcountry camping, however, you will still need to pay a fee and book a reservation.
During the summer months, this trail is very busy with people who come here specifically to see the flame azaleas when they are in full bloom. The various hybrids of azaleas to be found on top of Gregory Bald are so impressive that the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association says the British Museum of Natural History has traveled here just to collect samples.
The azaleas were first reported by William Bartram, a pioneer naturalist, who discovered them in 1776 while he was exploring Cherokee country. In his report, he called them a “Fiery Azalea” and stated that they were “the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known.”
A Tough Hike
The hike along the Gregory Bald Trail to the top where the azaleas grow is not an easy one, but at any given time during the summer, you are likely to find several dozen people standing around looking at the flowers. The earlier you can get started in the morning, the fewer people you are likely to find on the trail or at the top.
However, if you are not an experienced hiker, you may find the climb to the top a bit strenuous, but the view along the way is nothing short of spectacular. It is 5.75 miles from the trailhead to the top of Gregory Bald or 11.5 miles round trip, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks along with you. During the summer months, you should use plenty of sunblock to prevent sunburn as you climb up the trail.
The best time to hike the Gregory Bald Trail is in June when the azaleas are in full bloom. However, if you can’t make the trip in June, you can always come here in August when the wild blueberries are ripe and ready to be picked. However, you will find the local bear population also loves blueberries so you will need to be a bit more careful on the trail at this time of year.
There is truly no better way to get the most out of your time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park than by taking the time to hike the many trails throughout the park like the Gregory Bald Trail.