8 miles / Appalachian Dream
Smokies’ rangers like to boast that hiking in the park is like traveling from North Carolina to Maine: In one trip, you get Southern staples like blooming tulip trees and lush river valleys at the lower elevations, upper Appalachian hardwood hollows and lacy waterfalls in the mid-ranges, and the crisp spruce-Fraser fir forests of New England along its 6,000-foot-plus backbone. This 8-mile section lets you make the journey in a weekend.
Start with a quick climb to the summit observatory on Tennessee’s high point, Clingmans Dome, then flee the crowds via the Forney Ridge Trail, passing through boreal forest to 5,906-foot Andrews Bald, where the best miles begin. From this grassy vantage, vistas stretch over Fontana Lake and the Smokies’ wrinkled ridges. Backtrack slightly to the Forney Creek Trail and drop to the creek, your constant companion for the rest of the hike.
Follow it downstream to one of the best campsites in the entire park, #68, which sits at the base of Forney Creek Cascade, a 40-foot slab waterfall. Take a dip in the birch-shaded pool above the site even if you don’t stay the night. The next bit features a wetter, greener forest with several creek crossings (check water levels), past campsite #69. You’ll drop 3,800 feet by the time you splash through the final three fords to the junction of Forney and Jonas Creeks and campsite #70, making your day part Maine, part southern Appalachia, and 100 percent Smokies magic.
Trailhead 35.562988, -83.498540
Total hike 18.6 miles (out and back) or 20.6 (loop via Springhouse Branch and Forney Ridge Trails).
Camping Allowed at 3 designated sites. Request permits up to 30 days ahead ($4/person/night).