At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
On clear days views expand over a 100 miles. Unfortunately, air pollution often limits viewing distances to under 20 miles.
Clouds, precipitation, and cold temperatures are common at Clingmans Dome. Temperatures at the dome can be 10 -20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. In fact, the cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome’s summit make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest. Proper preparation is essential for a good visit. Dress in layers and be sure to bring a jacket, even in summer.
Although Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through March 31, and whenever weather conditions require.
It’s 7 miles to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and there are scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top.
Besides the trail to the summit, there are several trails that start on Clingmans Dome Road and parking area. The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its journey from Georgia to Maine. The Forney Ridge Trail leads to Andrews Bald, a high-elevation grassy bald.
In the Winter,
Experience Clingman’s Dome without the crowds by hiking in the winter months. With Clingman’s Dome Road closed, the highest point in the Smokies becomes a much less visited backcountry destination.
During the winter months, from December 1 through March 31, the 7-mile Clingman’s Dome Road that branches off Highway 441 at Newfound Gap, stays closed. This means the usual drive to the parking area located just a half mile below the tower is inaccessible, and the journey now requires a 15-mile round-trip hike on the AT, starting at Newfound Gap. The AT crosses the road at Newfound Gap (5,046 ft), straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Jump on the AT at the Newfound Gap parking area and head south. From here, the trail meanders through evergreens, ascending and descending along the ridge as you steadily gain elevation until you reach Clingman’s Dome Tower (6,643 ft). While this stretch of trail runs nearly parallel to Clingman’s Dome Road, you only come close enough to see the road in a few places, and with the road closed, this doesn’t take away too much from the backcountry experience. In weather typical for higher elevations in the Smokies, anticipate clouds and be prepared for rain or snow. In fact, according to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the cool and wet conditions around Clingman’s Dome make it a coniferous rainforest. Temperatures at Clingman’s Dome may be 10-20 degrees colder than the surrounding lowlands.
Cross Country Ski on Clingmans Dome Road. On any given day, you’ll find folks out and about with their cross-country skis and snowshoes enjoying the snow-covered road. Or, you could just grab your snow boots and enjoy a walk in the highlands of the Great Smoky Mountains.