Guide to Visiting Clingmans Dome

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Clingmans Dome

By Olivia Williams

Located at the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (6,643 ft!), Clingmans Dome is an essential stop for anyone exploring the park! This giant observation tower offers 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and, in our opinion, has the best view in the park! 

Clingmans Dome the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet (2,025 meters).

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Here is the ultimate guide to visiting Clingmans Dome, including when to visit, how to hike to Clingmans Dome, and what to pack!

Some interesting facts about Clingmans Dome:

  • The tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome, at 6,644 feet.
  • The third tallest in the Eastern United States and the highest peak in Tennessee is Clingmans Dome.
  • The Great Smoky Mountains can be seen in broad, panoramic vistas from the top of Clingmans Dome Tower.
  • The trail has a slope of around 13% and an elevation gain of about 340 feet.
  • Architects Hubert Bebb and Raymond Olson created the distinctive observation tower atop the summit in the 1950s. 

Editor’s note: We ensure the accuracy of our guides through thorough fact-checking. The information in this guide reflects the most current details available as of Feb 2024.

Best Time to Visit Clingmans Dome

While Clingmans Dome is beautiful year-round, we recommend visiting during the Spring or Fall. Spring is a beautiful time of year in the Great Smoky Mountains, as all of the flowers are blooming. Also, the weather isn’t too hot yet, and there aren’t as many tourists as there would be in the summer.

Fall is also a great time to visit because of the colorful leaves. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is absolutely stunning in the Fall, and the weather is mild. The only downside to visiting in the Fall is that the park may be crowded due to everyone wanting to experience the beautiful Fall colors.

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How to hike to Clingmans Dome

Whether you are an experienced hiker or a beginner hiker, there are several different ways to reach Clingmans Dome.

Here are some of the best ways to reach the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail

The first and easiest way to reach the observation tower is by hiking up the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail. In order to reach this trail, start on Newfoundland Road in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. From there, turn onto Clingmans Dome Road and drive about 7 miles until you reach the visitors center. The trail starts at the visitor center.

While this trail is only 1/2 mile, don’t be fooled! This is one steep, tough trail. The good news is that the trail is paved, and there are plenty of benches along the way. Stop and take breaks when you need to!

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Appalachian Trail

If you are up for a longer hike, the Appalachian Trail is also a great way to hike to Clingmans Dome! While there are several different spots to get on the Appalachian Trail, we recommend starting at Fontana Dam in Graham County, NC. Once you get on the trail at the dam, you will hike 30 miles to Clingmans Dome. Don’t attempt this hike unless you are an experienced hiker!

Tip: Be sure to stop at Shuckstack Fire Tower along the way!

If you do choose to hike the Appalachian Trail, there are several shelters along the way to camp at. Just be sure to check the backcountry camping permit rules before you go.

Forney Creek Trail

In order to reach Clingmans Dome via the Forney Creek Trail, start off on the Road to Nowhere (Lakeshore Drive) near Bryson City, NC. From there, you will hike about 13.5 miles until you reach the tower!

We recommend printing off this map of trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park before you go to ensure that you don’t get lost. You will need to take a couple of short trails in addition to the Forney Creek Trail to reach Clingmans Dome.

Noland Divide Trail

Another option if you want to start your hike in Bryson City is to take the Nolan Divide Trail. This trail starts at Deep Creek in Bryson City. Once you get on the trail, continue on for about 14.5 miles until you reach Clingmans Dome!

This trail features beautiful views and a waterfall. If you plan to hike this trail, make sure that you are well prepared because it is a strenuous hike, and keep in mind that horses are also allowed to use this trail.

What to pack for a trip to Clingmans Dome

What you decide to pack for your trip will highly depend on how you are getting there.

If you plan to drive to the visitor center and take the short hike to the tower, we recommend bringing your camera to get good photos, a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated, some comfortable walking shoes, and some sunscreen. If you want, you can even pack a lunch and have a picnic!

For any of the longer hikes mentioned above, you will need to do a lot more preparation. Be sure to check out a list of day-hike essentials and a list of camping essentials before you go.

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Summary

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and an amazing spot to visit. Thank you for reading this Ultimate Guide to Visiting Clingmans Dome!

Have you been to Clingmans Dome before? If so, let us know what you thought of it or if you have any additional tips!

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