At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest point along the 2,174-mile (3,499 km) Appalachian Trail. The “Dome” refers to the mountaintop, not the man-made observation tower which was built in 1959 as part of the Mission 66 program, an effort by the National Park Service (NPS) to attract more visitors to national parks. The Dome actually lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina. On clear days, visitors may see as far as 100 miles.
According to The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States, the mountain was called Smoky Dome by American settlers until the late 1850s, when it was renamed after Confederate general, Senator Thomas Lanier Clingman.
The Clingmans Dome hike is fully-paved and only half a mile. However, the steep gradient combined with the high altitude may make the hike too strenuous for the elderly or those out of shape. At the summit, hikers are greeted with incredible views of the Smoky Mountains National Park below them.
The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along the 2,144-mile journey.
The air at Clingmans Dome is much cooler than at lowland levels, about 20 degrees colder and often it’s a damp cold. When hiking the trail from the parking lot to the summit, bring a jacket and be prepared for windier conditions the higher you climb.
The view from the parking area is just as beautiful in my opinion. So, if you don’t believe you can make it up to the observation tower, it is still worth the trip.
The road into Clingman’s Dome is closed December 1st to March 31st.
Go on a clear day to get the best out of the experience. The parking lot is very small, plan on being there early.
The Thomas Divide Tunnel was built under the roadbed to keep hikers from having to cross over Clingmans Dome Road. You can find the tunnel less than a mile west of the junction between Clingmans Dome Road and Newfound Gap Road. In the 1960s, the tunnel was cut off from the original trail, so why you won’t happen upon it, unless you’re looking for it. It’s no longer part of any regular path or hiking trail and simply leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once stood.
When we go to Clingman’s Dome, we go a little further to Mingus Mill. Then, we go a little further to Oconaluftee visitors center. There is a little town set up out back. Then, on the way back we stop at Newfound Gap.
From downtown Gatlinburg, the scenic 23-mile drive to Clingmans Dome will take approximately one hour. Take the main Parkway out of Gatlinburg towards the Sugarlands Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center, continue straight for another 13 miles. Approximately one-tenth of a mile after Newfound Gap, make a right onto Clingmans Dome Road. The seven-mile road will dead-end into the Clingmans Dome parking area.