Gregory Bald

Gregory Bald via the Gregory Ridge/Gregory Bald Trails

  • Location: Great Smoky Mountain NP, TN
  • Distance: 11.6 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 3,359 ft
  • Time: Six to eight hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Best season: Spring or Fall
  • B.I.T. Rating ***1/2

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Directions: From Cades Cove in GSMNP pick up the Cades Cove Loop Road; drive this to the T-section just past the Cable Mills Visitor Center, and take the right (straight ahead) fork onto Forge Creek Road, which soon becomes a dirt road. Trail parking area, which is quite small, is on the left just after the intersection with the Parsons Branch “Road” (actually a jeep track.)

*Note that this description is for the Gregory Ridge Trail. It is possible to come up the Gregory Bald Trail from Parsons Branch Road. This way is somewhat shorter, somewhat steeper, and MUCH hard to access. We do not recommend this trail.*

Brief Description: Far less crowded than the popular Alum Cave Trail is Gregory Bald, the largest open summit area in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We hiked this trail in 2018 and were impressed with the trail itself, but found the open summit area, a meadow really, to be less impressive than hoped. But veteran hikers might like the challenge of this remote wilderness trail far more than some of the shorter options that we rate higher.

*(Editors Note: Many aficionados of the Smokies consider this hike to be one of the finest trails to one of the finest summits in the range. We do not agree, obviously…Despite its remoteness and unique summit area Gregory Bald did NOT make our list of the Top Ten Hikes in the Southern Appalachians. For an understanding of why this is so, read the considerations below. We very respectfully consider the Mount Cammerer Trail to be superior.)*

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Location Map from Google

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Our Directions overlain in Blue, Red

Trail Map (from AllTrails)

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Download PDF

Why Do This Hike?

  • See a side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park most never will
  • Far less crowded alternative to the Alum Cave Trail, Chimney Tops, Charlie’s Bunion, etc
  • Veteran hikers will love the challenge and solitude of this long trail deep into wilderness
  • Very Remote; true wilderness experience
  • Largest open summit area in GSMNP (10 acres)
  • Apart from one short section near the top, not extremely steep or rough
  • Fine views of surrounding peaks
  • Views back to by then distant Cades Cove are impressive
  • Real chance seeing bear or other wildlife
  • Chance to see stunning Cades Cove, a national treasure
  • Many great nearby things to visit; Russel Field, Abrams Falls, Spence Field, Rocky Top…
  • Azalea bloom display in June!
  • Blueberries in late summer!
  • Can be turned into an overnighter using back country campsites
  • Stage directly out of campground at Cades Cove

But First Consider:

  • This is a long, unrelenting slog
  • No really difficult parts, it just seems to climb forever
  • It can be almost three hours to return; make sure you leave the summit with enough daylight left
  • Trailhead not east to access
  • Chance to experience Cades Cove, a national traffic jam
  • Traffic around this area in summer has to be seen to be believed
  • Approach is via a narrow, one lane, one way road with a speed limit of 10 mph, usually clogged with sightseeing traffic
  • Over an hour from Gatlinburg, and that’s assuming NO traffic
  • Closest approach is probably from Townsend, TN
  • An early start strongly recommended
  • Parsons Branch Road is not a viable escape option for most even when it is open
  • Oh, and the road into Cades Cove itself has regular closures in peak season. 🙂
  • The open summit area did not greatly impress us
  • Like many southern ‘balds’ this one lacks wild character; it feels like a cultivated meadow (which in fact it is)
  • Haze and smog often dampen the views
  • Despite the Azaleas we do NOT recommend this trail in summer due to heat, crowds, traffic

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