Don’t miss hiking to Clingmans Dome for exceptional views of the Smokies from the top of the park’s highest mountain.
Twenty-three miles from Gatlinburg, it’s a relatively easy hike, although a bit steep, up to the top of Clingmans Dome and the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. The half-mile-long trail to the top is a wide, paved path. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by the largest intact eastern spruce-fir ecosystem remaining in the United States.
When you reach the summit at 6,643 feet, you’ll be at the highest point in Tennessee. It’s also the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, which is pretty impressive, given the trail is 2,192 miles long. Walk up to the top of the observation tower for even more elevation. On a clear day with no pollution, you’ll be able to see 10 miles in any direction. With pollution, your viewshed drops dramatically to less than 20 miles. Even so, it’s a highlight to be up so high with waves of rolling hills surrounding you.
Clingmans Dome was originally named “Smoky Dome” by early settlers in the 1800s because the mountain that was shaped like a dome was often shrouded in clouds. In fact, the dome gets 85 inches of rain each year. Cool winds, rain and colder temperatures are the norm rather than the exception. Because the top of the dome is so high up, you’ll notice temperatures can be 10-20 degrees cooler there in comparison to the park’s lower valleys. Be sure to bring a warm jacket with you, even if it’s summer and you cannot possibly fathom temperatures cooling.
While the trail is paved, it’s not wheelchair accessible because it is too steep. Bikes and pets are prohibited on the trail. You can park your bike at a bike rack in the parking lot, but be sure to bring a lock for your bike.
To get to the Clingmans Dome parking lot, turn off Newfound Gap Road .1 mile south of Newfound Gap and follow the Clingmans Dome Road for seven miles. It’ s one of the highest mountain roads east of the Mississippi River and you’ll get great views, even on your drive to the trailhead. The road is typically closed from early December to late March.