Welch Ridge is a powerful spur anchored to the high Smoky divide at Silers Bald and extending south in a long sweeping arc down to the Little Tennessee River Valley.
Starting at the upper terminus near the Appalachian Trail, traverse a bramble-ridden hillside before reaching a transitional zone being actively reclaimed by forest.
From this juncture, the trail ambles along on an easy grade before dropping into Mule Gap, a pleasant setting in a wide gently sloped saddle on Welch Ridge. Soon after, pass the upper terminus of the Hazel Creek Trail
on your right.
Below Mule Gap, the trail negotiates a succession of knobs and gaps while switching back and forth across the spine of Welch Ridge before descending to encounter a forlorn junction marking the upper terminus of the Jonas Creek Trail
. From here, the trail eases back across the ridgeline into a series of peaks. Except for the climb on the approach to Mount Glory, the grade remains easy. The trail passes on the west flank just below the summit of Mount Glory and then rolls out to the summit of Hawk Knob.
Beyond Hawk Knob, the trail stays to the west side of the ridgeline, passing a weak spring protected by a stone wall. Beyond the spring, the trail returns to the ridgeline, descending first to Water Oak Gap and then climbing to the west side of Bearwallow Bald.
Below Bearwallow Bald, the trail intersects the upper terminus of the Bear Creek Trail
. Past the junction, a narrow path exits through high weeds to High Rocks, an outcrop affording one of the finest vantage points on the North Carolina side of the mountains.
At its junction with the High Rocks Trail
, the Welch Ridge Trail widens to a jeep track for a descent along the slopes immediately below High Rocks. The descent is steep and in places quite rocky, but eases perceptibly at Cold Spring Gap. In the gap, the Welch Ridge Trail terminates into the upper end of the Cold Spring Gap Trail
This content was contributed by author Ken Wise. For a comprehensive hiking guide to the Great Smoky Mountains and to see more by Ken, click here
Along the way, you'll pass through a beautiful mixed forest.