The drive to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains, a highlight of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a 7-mile, scenic Smoky Mountain drive on Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap Road. Along the road, photo opportunities are abundant with of plenty areas to pull off to view the mountains as well as several short walking trails to enjoy. As the highest point in the national park – and the highest point in all of Tennessee – the popular viewing spot offers a spectacular panoramic scene of the Smoky Mountains from the Clingmans Dome observation tower. Whether you are experiencing the bright colors of fall, the snow-covered mountains of winter or the deep green of the spring and summer, the observation tower is one of the best places for viewing in the Smokies and definitely worth the trek.
How to Get to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains
Getting to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains is easy and enjoyable with lots of beautiful sights to take in along the way. We’ve listed directions below to help you along the way:
Directions: Turn off Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap follow the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area at the end.
Once you arrive at the parking area, there is a moderately difficult half-mile hike to the ramp of the observation tower at Clingmans Dome. There are benches along the the way to the towers, so you’ll be able to stop and catch your breath – or just enjoy the fresh air! – on your way up the trail. Bicycles and pets are not permitted on the paved trail to the observation tower or on any surrounding trails in the area. There is a bike rack towards the beginning of the trail that leads to the observation tower, so you can secure your bike while hiking the trail. You will need to bring a lock with you to secure your bike. Please note that even though the trail is paved, it is too steep to be considered wheelchair accessible.
What to Expect When Visiting Clingmans Dome
The peak of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an altitude of 6,643 feet above sea level, so you should prepare for colder temperatures, as clouds, rain and wet conditions are common at the site, and temperatures at “the Dome” can be 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the lower elevations. We suggest wearing layers and bringing a jacket, even in the summer because the temperatures are typically a little cooler in the upper elevations.
On clear days you can expect to enjoy 360-degree views that can extend more than 100 miles. Unfortunately, air pollution often limits viewing distances to under 20 miles.
Clingmans Dome observation tower is open year-round, but the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through March 31 and whenever weather conditions make the hike unsafe.
How Clingmans Dome Got Its Name
Most of the mountains in the national park are named after those who discovered them. Thomas Clingman believed that the mountain was higher than any other in the area. Then, when geographer Arnold Guyot took measurements, Clingman was correct. So, Guyot named the highest peak in honor of Clingman.
Sights Along the Way
On your way to Clingmans Dome, you will pass several points of interest that are also worth visiting – make a day of it! Below, we have highlighted some of the favorite places to visit along the way to Clingmans Dome:
- Indian Gap – Indian Gap is a historic site where two toll roads met (before the creation of Newfound Gap Road). The toll roads were the Indian route through the area. You can stop to walk down the hill where you will still find indentations where wagons were once pulled.
- Weeping Wall – At the top of the mountain, you will notice there is quite a bit of moisture and water condensation. The rock walls along the road will show the dripping water, creating the so called ‘weeping walls.’ In the winter, these walls are remarkable because they freeze in icy conditions, forming naturally-occurring ice sculptures.
- Spruce-Fir Nature Trail – Before rounding out your day trip to Clingmans Dome, be sure to enjoy this half-mile nature trail. Visitors can go into the Smokies by this quick trail and experience the cool, fir-scented mountain air that is unlike many areas in the national park. There’s even a self-guiding brochure at the beginning of the trail to help show you along the way.
Looking for your next adventure after your visit to Clingmans Dome in the Smokies? Read about more things to see in the Smoky Mountains for your next trip!