The trail provided a pretty and pleasant hike. It ambled gently for the first two miles along Forge Creek eventually crossing it three times on foot logs. The walk through beautiful stands of in-bloom rosebay rhododendrons, old-growth hemlocks, and tuliptrees was magnificent to say the least.
The climb really starts at campsite 12, where you begin the 2400' climb (over 3 miles) up Gregory Ridge to Rich Gap. Although this works out to about 800' gain each mile, the climb really didn't seem too bad to me on this particular day. I guess I must have remembered to eat my Wheaties for breakfast. The thrill of the hike came about 1/2 mile below Rich Gap when I encountered a LARGE BLACK BEAR heading downhill on the same trail that I was heading uphill on. The bear behaved exactly like I wanted it to and promptly exited the trail with a loud crashing lope through the woods as soon as it saw me.
At Rich Gap, I joined the Gregory Bald trail for a short and easy 6/10 mile hike to the Bald. At this point, the mountain was enshrouded in heavy cloud with very limited visibility which was a bit of a disappointment. It made it difficult to fully appreciate this 10 acre open grassy bald situated on the Tennessee / North Carolina border for what it really is. The famous Gregory Bald display of azaleas were a bit beyond their prime but the colors were still brilliant and beautiful. In spite of the heavy fog and mist, I was able to spot azaleas blooming in oranges, reds, pinks, yellows, whites, creams, and various combinations The fragrance in the air was magnificent. I must say I don't remember ever encountering anything like it in all my years of hiking.
I think that I will have to return later this summer to enjoy some of the many blueberries scattered about the bald. Maybe I'll luck out and get a view next time.
Overall, I will have to rate this 11 mile round trip as a must do!
As an Appalachian Trail through hiker, I feel that I must also mention that the Appalachian Trail originially crossed Gregory Bald on its route through the Smokies. The relocation to the current route took place in 1948.
1940 Great Smoky Mountain map showing the Appalachian Trail crossing Gregory Bald.