Tennessee’s highest Point: Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. Only North Carolina’s Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) rises higher.

Clingmans Dome is a popular Park destination. Located along the state-line ridge, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144 mile journey.

Vistas from the tower are spectacular. On clear, sunny days, views expand over 100 miles and into seven states. However, air pollution limits average viewing distances to 22 miles. Despite this handicap, breathtaking scenes delight those walking to the top of the tower. It is a great place to view and capture pictures of sunrises and sunsets.

Although the observation tower is open year ’round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through April 1, and whenever weather conditions require. People can hike and cross-country ski on the road during the winter months.

directions

The beautiful drive to Clingmans Dome, which takes approximately one hour (light traffic) from downtown Gatlinburg, is approximately 23 miles. Take the main Parkway towards the Sugarland’s Visitor Center and continue past the visitor center for approximately 13 miles. Turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road, which dead-ends into the parking area.

Our Take

It’s a beautiful drive up to Clingmans Dome with many great views along the way, especially through Newfound Gap. The trail is partially paved and easy to maneuver. Don’t be fooled by the “easy” tag for this trail or “short ½ mile hike” up to the top because this hike is not easy. With the altitude and the incline, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There are many benches along the way to rest if needed.

useful tips

Here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

  • Pick the clearest day of your stay if you plan on going to Clingmans Dome. 
  • Go early! The area can get crowded and parking can get bad. 
  • Pack like you were going on a longer hike, bring plenty of water and a snack.
  • Pack warmer clothing, the top of the mountain can be 10-20 degrees colder than the temperature in Gatlinburg.

Pro Tip: When you go back down Clingmans Dome Road instead of turning left to go back toward Gatlinburg turn right and travel toward Oconaluftee Visitors Center. Right before the Visitors’ Center, on a couple occasions, I have seen a heard of Elk grazing on the fields on both sides of the road. Very cool!

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