The Clingmans Dome Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
…feeling great at CLINGMANS DOME!
Clingmans Dome is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This high elevation oasis in the clouds is the highest peak in Tennessee at 6,643 feet above sea level.
From Gatlinburg: Take Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Hwy 441 South) for 14 miles to Newfound Gap. Just past Newfound Gap, turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and travel 7 miles to the parking area.
From Cherokee: Take Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Hwy 441 North) for 19 miles and turn left onto Clingmans Dome Road and travel 7 miles to the parking area.
Be sure to note that Clingmans Dome Road is closed to motorists in Winter.
The parking area for Clingmans Dome is large but is often full due to the popularity of this beautiful spot. Composting restrooms can be found adjacent to the parking area. Be sure to check out the kiosks along the walkway to learn more about the mountains and the people who have called them home. Near the parking area is a Visitor Center with maps, books, souvenirs, and volunteers to answer questions.
Take the drive to Clingmans Dome and discover why this high elevation, spruce-fir forest is one of our favorite spots in theGreat Smoky Mountains. Any time of year, any kind of weather, you will find inspiration in these mountains that will call you to return again and again.
Climbing the Dome
The paved trail is a half mile to the summit. It is a steady, uphill walk so be sure to take advantage of the benches provided along the way when you need a moment to catch your breath.
Once at the summit, take the final climb up the handicapped accessible observation tower for a breathtaking 360 degree view of the park and surrounding mountains. On a clear day, visibility can surpass one hundred miles. Not every day is clear in the high country of the Great Smoky Mountains and temperatures can vary by thirty degrees from the low lands.
Temperatures and weather can vary dramatically from the valley below. Hypothermia is a REAL possibility year-round if you are caught without proper gear. Have a fleece jacket and raincoat handy for any visit to Clingmans Dome no matter the season or your skill level. A hat and gloves are always nice too!
Hiking Trails accessed from Clingmans Dome
- Forney Ridge Trail – can be found just below the Visitor Center and provides a lovely 1.8 mile walk to Andrew’s Bald.
- Appalachian Trail – at the base of the observation tower the trail intersects the famous Appalachian Trail. From this intersection a hiker may walk two hundred miles south to Georgia or two thousand miles north to Maine. No matter which direction you choose a little time spent on the AT is always time well spent. The views are magnificent any time of year.
What’s up with all the dead trees? Under attack!
Notice the “graveyard” appearance of dead Frasier Fir trees along the path to the tower. These lingering sentinels are a sad reminder of the threats our National Park faces every day. These trees were decimated by acid rain and an invasive species of insect known as the Balsam Wooly Adelgid. These pests literally suck the life out of the firs by drinking the trees sap. With no natural defenses the trees were sitting ducks when the assault began. Note the fir saplings sprouting up for they probably will not be here when you return. Few reach maturity before the insect strikes. Park biologists have been working hard to find a sustainable way to preserve this important part of the biosphere with mixed results. We are hopeful that a solution can be found to ensure the forest to the diversity it has had for centuries.
How did Clingmans Dome get its name?
Clingmans Dome is named after Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman. He was a pioneer, explorer, soldier, scientist, and statesman. Clingman won the competition to accurately measure this peak in the 1850’s. General Clingman had a colorful life and was given the honor of having this peak named after him by the Swiss geographer Arnold Guyot. While the awe inspiring grandeur of the Clingmans Dome view will endure forever, sadly General Clingman died alone, penniless and institutionalized.
The concrete observation tower at Clingmans Dome was constructed in 1959.