The Forney Ridge Trail joins the Forney Creek Trail on a 7.6 mile descent from Clingman’s Dome to the Jonas Creek Trail intersection. While few might choose this as an out-and-back, it’s part of a popular 20.5 mile backcountry loop that continues up to Silers Bald on the Appalachian Trail and back to Clingman’s Dome.
No matter your route, the Forney Creek Trail is compelling for its passage through several distinct ecotones, a stop at Forney Creek Cascade, light crowds, and several unaided, potentially challenging creek crossings:
Begin on the Forney Ridge Trail, which drops steeply past the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail through dense bands of Fraser fir and red spruce. Though swaths of forest exhibit extensive beetle damage, the trail corridor itself is healthy and verdant.
Forney Ridge drops in rugged stages to the Forney Creek Trail, which narrows on a variously steep and sloppy descent. Notable along the way are open grassy hillsides – a relative rarity in the Park – which are good places to find turkey and bear.
The trail reaches the top of Forney Creek and turns down beside it, transitioning from spruce and fir into an upper-hardwood forest. Birch and rhododendron appear as you head downstream to the 1st of two spurs for Backcountry Campsite #68.
This is potentially confusing, as the falls and 2nd site are still .4 miles away, and the two are not depicted separately on most maps.
Continue through a steep hairpin turn down to the second site #68 at the base of Forney Creek Cascade. This long, two-tier fall slides down wide rock slabs into a narrow pool along the creek.
Grades moderate past the falls across a tributary, the first of many wet encounters. Hardwoods emerge in greater numbers on a steady, if uneventful descent along dry southwest-facing slopes.
The creek is audible but mostly concealed until reaching the first major crossing at 4.95 miles. This scenic area is highlighted by a tumbling tributary and several cascades upstream.
The trail continues above and away from the creek into the heart of a northern hardwood forest. Rhododendron envelops portions of the trail while vines drape from towering maple, beech, and poplar. The understory is notably lush and diverse at these lower, wetter elevations.
You’ll reach a second major crossing at 6.0 miles to Backcountry Campsite #69, which is unceremoniously located right along the trail.
Travel levels considerably to consecutive crossings at 6.25 miles, 6.6 miles, and 7.0 miles. Concentration and fatigue management are key on these more voluminous fords.
The Forney Creek Trail meets the Jonas Creek Trail at a log bridge near the creeks’ confluence. Whether continuing on a loop or returning the way you came, a minimum 3,800′ net climb awaits back to Clingman’s Dome.