Hiking to Clingmans Dome
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most popular national park in the United States located on the Tennessee and North Carolina border. It is a really beautiful area. The park itself has many different things to see and do. One of the main highlights is Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in the park and the third highest peak east of the Mississippi River. At the end of the trail is a unique observation tower with an amazing view on clear days that can reach up to 100 miles on a clear day. The observation tower is unique and kind of looks like a UFO. It is circular in shape and has a ramp that leads to a large circular area with amazing views of the Smoky Mountains. This is one of the best places in the Smoky Mountains to watch the sunrises or the sunsets.
Great video from on top of Clingmans Dome
Directions to the Trailhead for Clingmans Dome
The easiest way to get to Clingmans Dome is to take US Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) from either Gatlinburg, Tennessee or from Cherokee, North Carolina. This is the main road through the park. Turn on to Clingmans Dome Road, which is located almost halfway between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. The turn is clearly marked in both directions. Clingmans Dome Road is about seven miles in length and ends at the parking area for the trailhead to Clingmans Dome. As you drive down this road, there are several places to pull over and admire the beautiful valleys and ridges. Be cautious as you drive down this road because it is often covered with dense fog. The parking area at Clingmans Dome is large, but it is a good idea to come earlier in the day because it does fill up. The trail begins at the far edge of the parking lot. There are restrooms available near the start of the trail. US Highway 441 closes for the winter between the beginning of December and the end of March, however, Clingmans Dome is open year round. You can also take the Appalachian Trail from any number of points and hike to the top of Clingmans Dome. The closest point that I know of is to pick up the trail at Newfound Gap, which will be about a seven-mile hike.
Clingmans Dome Facts and Information
Last summer, for our family vacation, we visited Acadia National Park in Maine, which was beautiful, but they seemed to call every hill a mountain. Clingmans Dome may look small compared to the mountaintops in the Rocky Mountains, but it is very unique and stands at an elevation of 6,643 feet. The most unique thing about the summit is that it is considered to be a coniferous rainforest, which is very shocking. Until I visited there, I would never have thought is was even possible to have a rain forest at such a high elevation. It is a good idea to bring rain gear with you because the weather can change quickly up there. It is also important to remember that the temperature can be as much as 20 degrees colder up there than in Gatlinburg or Cherokee. It is also very damp up there as well. It is a good idea to bring an extra layer with you if you are planning to get out and hike.
Video of a family hiking to the top of Clingmans Dome
Difficulty of Hiking the Clingmans Dome Trail
The Clingmans Dome Trail is moderate in difficulty due to the steep climb to the top. It is only a half-mile hike from the parking lot to the observation tower. The trail is paved and wide so you can easily take a stroller with you if you need to. A powered wheel chair may make it, but a manual one will be a problem without help. The observation tower is accessible with a ramp that winds around to the top. There are several places to stop and take a break along the trail and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you. On our first visit to the park, my kids were three and four at the time and they did not have a problem making the hike. My wife and I actually had a problem keeping up with them because they practically ran a few feet ahead of us on the steepest part. I think that the hardest part of the trail is hiking back down to the parking lot because of the steep descent. The trail is wheel chair and stroller accessible, but be careful going up and down the steep parts.
Clingmans Dome Trail Dangers
The hike to the summit of Clingmans Dome has few dangers to it. The biggest danger is slipping and falling down if the trail is wet or icy. Even then, you will probably only receive a few scrapes. Another danger is black bears, though bear attacks are extremely rare, it is important to keep a look out for them. This is a danger that exists just about anywhere in the park. It is a good idea to make noise as you hike to alert bears to your presence so that you do not come around a corner and startle one. Most bears will try to avoid you and really want nothing to do with you. However, as the video below demonstrates, it is not a good idea to leave your car windows open if you have food in the car because you may have an uninvited passenger when you return to your vehicle.
Hungry Bear @ Clingmans Dome
A special note that if you are taking kids along with you, keep a close eye on them in the parking area so that they do not dart out in front of a car because the parking lot is very busy. In addition, it is important for drivers to pay careful attention when driving through the parking lot because of how busy it is. I almost saw several accidents while walking through the parking lot.
My Clingmans Dome Experience
My family and I have been to Great Smoky Mountain National Park twice in the past few years. Regretfully, we were unable to make it up to Clingmans Dome this last time because we were only spent a few days there and decided to spend our time relaxing in the cabin that we rented as well as hiking to Abrams Falls. The first time we went there was a few years ago at the end of September. The leaves were just starting to change colors. The Smoky Mountains are extremely beautiful during the fall. Many of the bushes had a bunch of beautiful clusters of red berries on them. I think it took us about forty-five minutes to hike to the top and back, but we could have made it quicker if we did not stop to take pictures along the way. We also stopped at one of the benches on the side of the trail for a water break. It was cool to cross the famous Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia all the way up to Maine. Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the trail. When we made it to the top, it was extremely foggy and damp. Regretfully, we could only seen about 20-30 yards from the observation tower because of the denseness of the fog. We spent a few minutes up there and headed back down to the parking area. It was a wonderful experience that we thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend to anyone visiting the park.