Forney Creek Trail, Clingman's Dome - Forney Ridge Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Forney Creek Trail - 15.2 miles
Clingman's Dome - Forney Ridge Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||15.2 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||6,315' - 2,488' (6,315' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||-3,827' net elevation loss (+3,915' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Forney Creek Trail - 15.2 Miles Round-Trip
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 distinct ecotones, a stop at Forney Creek Cascade, light crowds and numerous (potentially tricky) creek crossings:
Begin on the Forney Ridge Trail, which drops steeply past the Clingman's Dome Bypass Trail (.15 mile) through dense bands of Fraser fir and red spruce. Despite extensive beetle damage, the trail corridor itself is healthy and verdant.
Forney Ridge drops in rugged stages to the Forney Creek Trail (1.0 miles : 5,736'), which narrows on a variously steep and sloppy descent. Grassy glades - a relative rarity in these forests - are a good place to find turkey and bear.
The trail reaches the top of Forney Creek and turns down beside it (2.15 miles : 4,825') while transitioning into an upper-hardwood forest. Birch and rhododendron appear as you head downstream to the 1st of two spurs for Backcountry Campsite #68 (2.65 miles : 4,445').
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 to the second site #68 at the base of Forney Creek Cascade (3.05 miles : 4,156'). This long, two-tier fall slides down wide rock slabs into a narrow pool.
Grades moderate past the falls across a tributary (3.2 miles : 3,971'). 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 (3,378'). 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 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 (2,942') to Backcountry Campsite #69 (6.2 miles : 2,878'), which is unceremoniously located right along the trail.
Travel levels to consecutive crossings at 6.25 miles (2,874'), 6.6 miles (2,771'), and 7.0 miles (2,605'). 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 (7.6 miles : 2,488'). Whether continuing on a loop or returning the way you came, a minimum 3,800' net climb awaits back to Clingman's Dome.
- N35 33.416 W83 29.775 — 0.0 miles : Clingman's Dome - Forney Ridge Trailhead
- N35 32.874 W83 29.510 — 1.0 miles : Forney Creek Trail split
- N35 32.789 W83 30.001 — 2.15 miles : Trail meets tributary of Forney Creek
- N35 32.705 W83 30.451 — 2.55 miles : Cross small stream (Forney Creek)
- N35 32.441 W83 30.704 — 3.05 miles : Forney Creek Cascade - Campsite #68
- N35 32.260 W83 31.214 — 3.6 miles : Grades moderate into hardwood forest
- N35 32.110 W83 31.550 — 4.0 miles : Steady travel down dry slopes
- N35 32.060 W83 31.674 — 4.6 miles : Cross creek (minor)
- N35 31.934 W83 31.636 — 4.95 miles : 1st major creek crossing
- N35 31.431 W83 32.217 — 5.5 miles : Moderate travel in lush hardwood forest
- N35 31.398 W83 32.343 — 6.0 miles : Cross Creek
- N35 31.431 W83 32.437 — 6.2 miles : Backcountry Campsite #69
- N35 31.385 W83 32.466 — 6.25 miles : Cross creek at confluence
- N35 31.178 W83 32.627 — 6.6 miles : Cross creek
- N35 30.996 W83 33.081 — 7.0 miles : Cross creek
- N35 30.768 W83 33.473 — 7.6 miles : Jonas Creek Trail junction
- Clingman's Dome Road is closed December 1 - March 31, and occasionally outside these dates due to weather. Call ahead for road closure information.
- Creek crossings may be dangerous or impossible during wet and runoff periods. Call ahead for trail conditions and creek volume updates.
- Upper portions of the Forney Creek Trail are very steep, rugged, and exposed to storms. Manage time wisely, and account for slower travel on the 3 mile, 2,200' climb between Forney Creek Cascade and Clingman's Dome.
- Backcountry Campsite #68 at Forney Creek Cascade is in high demand due to its location at the falls and proximity to Clingman's Dome. Note the site is occasionally closed due to bear activity, attributable in part to berries in the immediate vicinity. Plan ahead to secure this site.
- Much of the Forney Creek drainage was logged up to Clingman's Dome, though you'll see little evidence of these efforts past the cascade. The forest in this drainage is second growth.
Camping and Backpacking Information
BACKPACKING IN THE SMOKIES
Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.
Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/
Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.
General Backcountry Regulations
1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.
2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.
3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.
4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.
5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.
6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.
7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.
8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.
9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.
10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.
11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.
12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.
13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.
14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.
15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.
16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.
17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park
18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.
- Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.
- The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
- A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.
- Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
- Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
- Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.
Rules and Regulations
- Horses and stock are not permitted on the Forney Creek Trail.
- There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.
- Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but not on any Park trails.
Directions to Trailhead
The Clingman's Dome - Forney Ridge Trailhead is located 19.6 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead is located in the main Clingman's Dome parking lot, 7 miles west of Newfound Gap Road (441).
From Sugarlands, head 12.6 miles south on Newfound Gap Road to Clingman's Dome Road. Turn right (west) and continue 7 miles to the main parking area and trailhead.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information - Recorded Message
Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)
Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)