Visit the observation tower at the top of the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Deep inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park , right on the North Carolina and Tennessee border, is the highest point in the park – Clingmans Dome. It is also 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 degree views of the Smokies and surrounding areas. The view doesn’t come without a cost, you’ll have to work for this one, although it’s paved the entire way to the observation tower, the half-mile walk to the summit is very steep. The location is also very remote requiring a bit of a drive to get there. Despite all of this, it is something that shouldn’t be missed.
Clingmans Dome is located at the end of Clingmans Dome Road which is just off Highway 441. Clingmans Dome Road actually starts in Tennessee just over the border from North Carolina. The road is 7 miles long as it zig-zags between North Carolina and Tennessee as you pass numerous vistas and trailheads. It also loosely parallels the Appalachian Trail. The road is only open from April 1st to November 30th and may also close at random times dependent on the weather. This is a very remote and beautiful landscape.
The parking area is a very large loop but this is also a popular spot and will likely be crowded if not full. Get there early if you want to have the best experience. Clingmans Done is about 45 minutes from Cherokee North Carolina or Gatlinburg Tennessee. There are restroom facilities at the lot in addition to informative signboards, a gift shop, and plenty of great views even before you get to the top of mountain. Note that the temperature at Clingmans Dome can sometimes be up to 20 degrees cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. Even in the Summer it can be cool so come prepared with layers.
The trail to the top of Clingmans Done starts in the far corner of the parking lot. It is only a 1/2 mile trek to the top but the trail is steep . So steep, that even though it is paved, it is not wheelchair accessible. It also gets increasingly steep the closer you get to the top. But it is very nicely maintained and there are plenty of benches available along the way up. Fortunately the climb isn’t too long. As you reach the top and the trail levels off, you will reach an intersection where the trail to Clingmans Dome, intersects with the Appalachian trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Shortly after that is the summit and one more small incline to the top of the observation tower.
The path up to the observation tower is a long sidewalk that spirals almost in a complete circle up to the viewing area. Once you’re at the tower, you will have views in every direction. On a clear day you may catch views over 100 miles away although most days it is significantly less. We were there on a cloudy day with light showers but the views were still priceless.
Enjoy the view atop Clingmans Dome and take this opportunity to rest and enjoy the view before you start your descent down the mountain. If you haven’t stopped at the gift shop and information center, you can visit on your way down the trail as you near the parking area. In additional to gifts and mementos available for purchase, there are also several informative signs and plaques that provide additional information about the wonderful and interesting Clingmans Dome.