Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Length: 0.5 miles one way
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains and in Tennessee. From the top of the observation tower pictures above, one can, at times, see for over 100 miles in every direction. Unfortunately, these times are rare, and it is more common to be able to see for around 20 miles, which still provides outstanding views.
On my most recent trip to Clingmans Dome, however, the I was not even fortunate enough to see 20 miles. On rainy and cloudy days, the hike to Clingmans Dome is shrouded in fog, and limits views to only a few hundred feet.
One can actually choose from several different hikes to reach the observation tower. The most common route begins in the parking area 0.5 miles from the tower.
A paved trail leads from this area up a steep ascent. Along the trail, one will find a number of benches to rest. At each 0.1 mile there will also be a bench with a number indicating how many tenths of a mile you have walked.
Take your time on this popular trail as there are a number of potentially great views looking off into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Also be aware, however, that this is a very popular trail. One the last day I visited three school buses full of young children arrived just behind me.
The forest surrounding Clingmans Dome received enough participation each year (mainly from near constant cloud coverage), that is considered a coniferous rain forest. As you walk up this trail, a community of spruce-firs lies along each sides of the trail. These beautiful trees, however, are no longer a thriving community. Clingmans Dome received the highest levels of acid rain of any national park. Due to the constant precipitation left by the clouds and rain, the spruce firs are dying, and one will quickly notice the number of empty trunks and dead limbs in the area.
In fact, while carrying a thru-hiker into town from Clingmans Dome, he informed that when he had last visited the area in 1964, the hike up to the tower was a shaded hike. Currently, the trail is completely open along both sides of the trail, and long open vistas can be seen to the left along nearly the entire hike.
Once you reach the top of the trail, you will find a large circular stone area sitting below the 54 foot concrete observation tower. This tower is very accessible, and an easy climb to the top, as it is a long slow loop to the top with no stairs. My wife likened the entry to the tower to an interstate exit ramp.
The top of the tower offers a 360 degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina. Unfortunately, for me, on my last climb to the tower, as one can tell from the above pictures, there was virtually zero visibility. For better views than i had, wait to hike here on days that have a clear sky, and wait until around midday to arrive.
Temperatures on top of Clingmans Dome can be suprising, even on a warm spring day. Be prepared for moisture and temperatures that can be 20 degrees lower than the temperatures in the towns surrounding the mountain.
Approach Trail from Newfound Gap – 7 miles
Appalachian Trail – 2175 miles
Mountain to Sea Trail – approximately 1000 miles (Clingmans Dome is the trail head of this developing trail)
Directions from Gatlinburg, TN:
1. Take US 441/ US 321 towards Cherokee and Clingman’s Dome for 15 miles.
2. Pass the Clingmans Dome Overlook on the left, and turn right at Clingmans Dome Road*
*Note: While Clingmans Dome is open year around, the road approaching it is not. In the winter (Dec. 1 – March 31), an additional 7 mile hike will be required along the road.
3. Arrive at parking area prior to trail.