So, my wife and I, still on our hiking vacation, decided to take some time in the Great Smoky Mountains along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. After looking through some hiking choices, we opted to go for the Andrews Bald Trail. This trail is about 3.5 miles round trip to a peak that tops out at around 6300 feet. It is a moderate trail, with an elevation gain of about 900 feet, but it's a nice day hike.
The trailhead is near Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, and on the way, we stopped to take in the view of Chimney Tops. This was a gorgeous view, with some nice wildflowers framing it. But we didn't linger too long, heading on to the main event. The Clingman's Dome area was a highly popular vista, and there were cars and people in abundance. However, most of them were taking the half mile hike to Clingman's Dome itself, and very few were taking the Andrews Bald Trail, so it was a quiet hike. We only saw a few people along the trail.
The trail starts out well-structured, with logs creating steps down to the main part of the trail. This structure doesn't last too long, however, as the trail becomes more rugged about a quarter of the way down the trail. In places, the trail was so muddy and difficult to navigate that the park service has prepared a log path through the center of the trail. We ended up walking along this path, balancing along it as it twisted along the trail.
The trail doesn't go completely up all the way there, but alternates between elevation gains and losses. Overall, it goes, up, of course. For the most part, the trail is dense, surrounded by trees, but as it gets to the top, it opens out onto a meadow. The meadow is filled with wildflowers, and bees were swarming around these flowers, going about their business.
The trail connects up with other trails that cross through other parts of the park, but we stopped at the peak, enjoying the stunning views of the blue mountains in the distance. As we took in the view, we also noted the approach of clouds over the mountains. It seemed prudent to start to head back down, to avoid getting drenched. We had our rain gear, as per usual, but hiking in the rain is not always the most fun.
We did make our way back to the trailhead in good time, and did not get wet. The wind picked up, and you could smell the moisture in the air, but that's about it. We packed up and headed back down the mountain.
As a bonus, on our way out of the park, we saw a bunch of cars parked on either side of the road, and people out of their cars. At first, I thought it was an accident, but it turns out that a herd of elk were out grazing in the meadow. Elk were reintroduced into the Smoky Mountains in 2001. Elk once roamed the Appalachian mountains, but were eliminated by hunting by the mid-1800s. Now, they are back, and judging from the presence of calves, they're doing well. The herd included a bull and a couple of cows, along with the calves. We took some time getting pictures and just watching them, before heading off to Asheville, NC.