I had the pleasure of hiking to Gregory Bald on Saturday to see the flame azaleas. It was wonderful to experience the beautiful azaleas, but the getting there was honestly a challenge. We hiked the Gregory Ridge Trail. The trailhead is located at the end of Forge Creek Road in Cades Cove. This trail made our hike a tad longer (about a mile) but we didn’t have to go down the one way Parson’s Branch Road that exits on the southwest corner of the park. It really saves on the driving! That extra mile of trail is actually gorgeous. Almost as if God was welcoming us to his home, rhododendron petals were scattered along the trail. It was the warm up to what proved to be a strenuous climb of about 2000 feet over three miles.
As we summited the bald, the green, lush canopy opened into beautiful blue skies. The path was lined with fiery hues of oranges, pinks and reds. Mixed in with the azaleas are blueberry bushes. The bushes produce berries in August. Be careful! Black Bears do love blueberries too. From the bald you can see Fontana Lake in North Carolina, Cades Cove, Rich Mountain, Clingmans Dome and Thunderhead Mountain. Gregory Bald offer a full panoramic view of the park.
As we were enjoying our lunch, a deer was nearby nibbling on the grasses on the bald. He did not seem at all surprised to see us! Since this is a popular time of year to visit the bald, there were lots of hikers enjoying their snacks, taking in the expansive views or exploring the bald. Some were even playing frisbee.
The azaleas were just stunning. Everywhere you looked, bright oranges, pinks and reds painted the bald. It really was an impressive display of color! The peak of the azaleas is mid to late June. Check out this video of Gregory Bald from the summit.
I highly recommend time and hiking up to Gregory Bald. A few things to remember: This is a strenuous hike. The elevation change is pretty intense paired with the length. Plan for a solid 8 hours. Be sure to take plenty of water and food. There are no snack bars or gift shops at the top! Please also keep in mind that there are active black bears in the area. Be sure to read up on what to do if you encounter a bear.