Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Clingmans Dome: The Smoky Mountains’ Highest Viewpoint

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Often engulfed in the famous blue smoke that gives the Great Smoky Mountains its name, Clingmans Dome offers visitors a chance to get above the treeline. Sitting atop the highest mountain in the Smokies, this spectacular 360 degree viewpoint is the highlight of any trip to the National Park.

They say, on a crystal clear day you can see up to 100 miles. Though we’ve been
about a half-dozen times, we’ve never been that lucky. However, on a good day, 20 miles of spectacular panoramic views await you.

We’ll provide you a few tips for improving your chances of a clear day. Along with answering some of the most asked questions about visiting this remarkable site.

Clingmans Dome from below, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Straddling the North Carolina – Tennessee border, Clingmans Dome is the central point of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Located roughly an equal distance from Gatlinburg, TN (24 miles) and Cherokee, NC (25 miles), it’s easy to access.

The mountain that is Clingmans Dome, is the highest peak in Tennessee, at 6,643 feet. It’s the third highest peak in the U.S., east of the Mississippi. However, the actual observation tower sits in North Carolina.

Road To Clingmans Dome

U.S. 441 is the main thoroughfare through the Great Smoky Mountains, connecting Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee in North Carolina. About half-way between the two cities is the turnoff for Clingmans Dome.

Just before the turnoff, if you are coming from Gatlinburg (or just after, if you’re coming from Cherokee), is the Newfoundland Gap rest area. Make a quick stop to take in yet another gorgeous viewpoint in the Smokies.

Newfoundland Gap on way to Clingmans Dome View of mountains, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

You’ll find several viewpoints to stop at along the seven mile road to Clingmans Dome.

Also keep an eye out for black bears. Every time we have been in this area we have seen them. We spotted this beautiful mama bear encouraging her cubs to climb at one of the pull offs along Clingmans Dome Road.

It’s worth noting, though Clingmans Dome is open year-round, the road to it closes between early December through late March, and during inclement weather.

Bear in Tree Clingman Dome Road, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Visibility At Clingmans Dome

Our very first visit to Clingmans Dome was around five years ago. Starting our ascent from the city of Cherokee, the weather seemed in our favor.

As we made our drive up Clingmans Dome Road, the sky became dark. By the time we hit the parking lot, a damp thick fog covered everything.

Since we were already there, we made the 1/2 mile trek up to the viewing platform. However, no surprise, we couldn’t see a thing.

Clingmans Dome in fog, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

For a mountain peak, the area has a unique ecosystem. Similar to a rain forest, Clingmans Dome receives an average of 85 inches of rain a year.

Since our first trip, we learned about the national park’s web camera at Clingmans Dome. Even though weather in the mountains can change quickly, coupling it with the weather forecast, gives a pretty good indication of what visibility to expect at the top of the mountain.

Even if you have pretty good weather, you’re likely to still find visibility limited by a white haze of air pollution.

Also, be prepared for cooler weather, even in summer you may need a jacket.

Visiting The Observation Tower

Clingmans Dome ramp, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

The parking lot at the base of Clingmans Dome fills up quickly in summer and fall. You may need to get there early, or be patient when waiting for parking.

The most direct route to the observation platform is a very steep, but paved 1/2 mile trek which takes around 30 minutes one way. Though paved, the trail and platform, are not recommend for wheelchairs due to the steep grade.

Clingmans Dome View Down From Top, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

If you are up for a longer, but more natural hike to the top, opt for the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail. It also starts from the parking lot, but heads down into the forest. Follow it north where it meets with the Appalachian Trail. From there, follow of the mountain ridge northeast to the observation tower. Keep a lookout for the signed turnoff, as the Appalachian Trail comes close, but doesn’t actually go to the tower.

Clingmans Dome Eastern View, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

From the top of the observation platform, useful signage provides insight into the view spread in front of you. 

Why All The Dead Trees?

It’s hard to miss all the dead trees surrounding the observation tower. At one time, Fraser Firs were the dominate tree at this elevation. Inadvertently introduced by trees imported from Europe, the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae) injects a poison into the trees. This poison blocks the Fraser Firs ability to absorb nutrients, and therefore starves to death.

A similar thing is happening to Eastern Hemlocks from the hemlock woolly adelgid. This pest is killing trees from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Clingmans Dome dead trees, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Most Asked Questions

How Much Does Clingmans Dome Cost To Visit?

Like most areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome is free. However, there are donation boxes available if you’d like to support the park service.

This is probably why the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the country. It is not only gorgeous, and easy to access, it also makes a really affordable destination for families.

Can Dogs Hike Clingmans Dome?

No. Dogs are not allowed on the Clingmans Dome hiking trail. Actually, there are very few trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that does allow dogs.

Does Clingmans Dome Close At Night?

No. Actually, lots of folks visit the observation tower for star gazing. Plus, it’s a great spot for sunrise and sunset since you get 360-degree views.

Other than Cades Cove, we’re not aware of any other areas of the Great Smoky Mountains that does close at night (outside of seasonal road closures).

Where To Stay For Clingmans Dome?

Both Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC make great locations for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All four of these hotels are in a great locations, with clean comfortable rooms, and free onsite parking.

Gatlinburg Hotel Suggestions

Cherokee Hotel Suggestions

What Are The Best Books On The Smoky Mountains?

If you are spending a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains, or plan on doing a few return trips, it’s worth picking up a book on the area. Here are a few suggestions:

Clingmans Dome view of trees, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Planning a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains? Bookmark or pin this guide so you can find us later. Plus, check out our other guides on the area.

Pinterest Image Clingmans Dome
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