Those of you outdoor enthusiasts looking for a downhill jaunt in the Smokies with a back-woodsy feel, look into the Fork Ridge Trail on the Tennessee side of the park. It’s a 5.1 mile hike from Clingmans Dome Road to the trail’s intersection with the Deep Creek Trail.
From its start, it’s a downhill hike through a number of Smoky Mountain tree species including fir and birch as you descend the Fork Ridge. You’ll notice ferns and rhododendron as you hike the first mile before hopping a stream and coming to a large opening which is full of native wildflowers in the spring.
A small stream is crossed again at the 2 mile mark on the trail. Spruce birch and maple can be seen near the trail at this point. The trail will level out for a bit before heading downhill again.
When you reach 4 miles in, a large dead American chestnut marks this point – said to have been dead for over 50 years and counting now. This is also a drier place on the trail which could possibly have something to do with it.
The Fork Ridge Trail will soon bend left into a more lush forest and hikers will get a good look at Noland Divide. Descending again, keep your eyes peeled for black bears. It’s said that this is a particularly popular place for them and their cubs as they make their way in search of food.
You’ll reach a knife ridge 5 miles on the trail ripe with flowering plants. Creeks now flow on both sides of the ridge and hikers come to a clearing. The sounds of Left Fork and Deep Creek can drown out the other sounds in the immediate area. In spring this isn’t a problem as one’s eyes are distracted by the beauty of the clearing’s wildflower display.
Deep Creek should be coming into view below as hikers finish off the last part of the Fork Ridge Trail. You’ll cross Deep Creek by a wide footbridge before connecting with the trail again on the other side. A left takes you back to Newfound Gap Road, a right takes the hiker to backcountry campsite No. 53 . Hope you enjoyed the Fork Ridge Trail and its Smoky Mountain wonders.