OverviewNettle Creek Bald has much in common with its Smoky Mountain neighbor Newton Bald. Both mountains are located on Thomas Ridge, which is one of the north-south ridges that connects to the main Smoky Mountain ridge on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. They were cleared of trees at their summit in the past, but are now blanketed by the Smoky Mountain forest. Unlike the balds of the Roan Highlands, which likely have been naturally clear of trees for at least 10,000 years, Nettle Creek and Newton Balds were cleared by mountain folk. When Nettle Creek Bald was incorporated into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the grazing ended, leading to reforestation. Although there are no views from Nettle Creek Bald, this peak is a botanists' and mycologists' delight.
Thomas Divide Trail: From Gatlinburg, follow US 441 south from through Newfound Gap into North Carolina. Park at the Thomas Divide parking lot on the right of the highway. Hike on the Thomas Divide Trail, which descends about 60 feet before ascending to the crest of a ridge. The trail goes through some small ups and downs before reaching the junction with the Kanati Fork Trail. From here, the trail ascends to the summit of Nettle Creek Bald. It's about 2.4 miles from the trailhead to the summit.
Round trip: 4.8 miles with an elevation gain of about 700 feet.
Kanati Fork Trail: From Gatlinburg, follow US 441 south from through Newfound Gap into North Carolina. Park at the Kanati Fork parking lot on the left side of the highway. Cross US 441 and hike up the Kanati Fork Trail for 2.9 miles to the Thomas Divide Trail. Turn left and follow the Thomas Divide Trail for 0.6 miles to the summit.
Round trip: 7 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,300 feet.
If you're coming from beyond Gatlinburg, there is a bypass around the town that goes directly into the national park. There is no bypass, unfortunately, for Pigeon Forge.
Red TapeNo pets. Leave the fauna, flora, and fungi alone. That's about it.
Fauna, Flora, and Fungi
When to ClimbNettle Creek Bald can be climbed all year round. Because of the elevation and the shade provided by the forest, hiking can be a pleasant experience even in the summer. Plant life is abundant in spring and summer, and autumn brings beautiful colors to the trees. During a July hike, my untrained eye spotted 10 different plant species in a 5-foot stretch of the trail. Butterflies are ubiquitous in the summer. Limited views of other mountains are probably available in winter.
CampingCamping is only allowed at designated sites and shelters.
Frontcountry camping: Reservations can be made for frontcountry campsites online or by phone. Parking is available at these campsites, which have restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. The nearest frontcountry campsite is Smokemont, which is a few miles south of the Thomas Divide parking lot on US 441. Smokemont is open from May 28 to December 31; fees are between $17 and $20 per night.
Backcountry camping: It is necessary to obtain a permit for camping in the backcountry. Camping is allowed for up to three consecutive nights at a particular site. The nearest site is Newton Bald (#52), which is 2.8 miles beyond the Nettle Creek Bald summit. Follow the Thomas Divide Trail for 2.6 miles, and turn left onto the Newton Bald Trail for about 0.2 miles.
External linksGreat Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking Trails of the Smokies is an excellent guidebook. National Geographic's map of Great Smoky Mountain National Park is also very helpful.