Trail: Gregory Ridge Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Forest Trails
Distance: 11.4 miles (RT)
Time: 7 hours or more
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Cades Cove Visitor Center
Highlights: Scenic Views, Flaming Azaleas, Gregory Bald, Footbridges, Streams
Gregory Ridge Trail Trailhead
To get to the Gregory Ridge Trailhead you first need to go to Cades Cove. Travel around the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road until you arrive at the Cable Mills Road near the Cades Cove Visitor Center in the southwest corner. Keep driving straight onto Forge Creek Road to the trailhead.
The parking area at the trailhead is limited and during peak season you need to arrive early in the morning to get a parking spot.
Keep in mind that Cades Cove is not open to automobiles before 10:00 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May to September. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic are welcome during these times.
Gregory Ridge Trail Parking
Gregory Bald Background
Back when Cades Cove was a thriving community, residents escaped the heat of summer by taking their cattle to Gregory Bald, a large grassy meadow on the mountain ridge. The cool air and lush vegetation was a welcome relief for the cattle.
In addition, moving the cattle made the land available for growing crops. They likely used the Gregory Ridge Trail, named after Russell Gregory, an early settler in Cades Cove.
Gregory Ridge Trail Description
Gregory Bald is considered one of the most spectacular settings in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Each summer, flame azaleas cover the bald in an amazing panorama of colors.
Due to the difficult nature of this hike, only the physically fit get to enjoy the payoff.
The 5.5 mile trail is a difficult hike due to the steep elevation changes, rated “strenuous” by every guidebook.
Hikers should expect to spend at least 7 hours making the trek out and back. One guidebook states that 6 hours is normal. We believe most people need more time.
If you are not in excellent physical condition, we do not recommend attempting this hike.
The trail is a typical forest trail and while not crowded, it is well traveled.
The spring wildflowers are beautiful, best in April. The best time for seeing the azaleas is mid to late June. Since hikers know this, nearby camping areas get crowded, especially in June.
Flame Azaleas on Gregory Bald | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
You begin the hike and ascend the trail at a slight incline, a mere warm-up for what is to come. About 2.5 miles in the trail becomes ruthless, climbing more than 2,000 feet in less than 3 miles.
Gregory Ridge Trail intersects Gregory Bald Trail at Rich Gap, the 4.9 mile point. Turn right and proceed the final .7 mile to Gregory Bald.
NOTE: Just before reaching Rich Gap you cross the border into North Carolina. By the time you reach Gregory Bald you will have crossed state borders three times.
On clear days, the view of Cades Cove is the best anywhere. You can see Fontana Lake, Rich Mountain, Thunderhead Mountain, and Clingman’s Dome all from Gregory Bald.
Hikers desiring to camp overnight before returning to the trailhead can proceed to the popular Backcountry Camp #13, considered by many to be the best campsite in the Smokies.
There are a limited number of spaces, so timing and planning is critical. Reservations are available at the National Park Service.
Nearby Points of Interest
The Appalachian Trail is two miles from Rich Gap where Gregory Ridge Trail and Gregory Bald Trail meet. Turn left at the intersection and proceed to the AT. The very popular Abrams Falls Trail with its famous waterfall is in Cades Cove.