Group will meet in the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome.
I want to share with you my experience of hiking to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail. Clingman’s Dome is a popular destination for visitors who want to enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and the surrounding states. But did you know that you can also access Clingman’s Dome from the Appalachian Trail? That’s right, there is a 7-mile roundtrip hike that starts from Newfound Gap and follows the AT to the summit of Clingman’s Dome. This hike is not for the faint of heart, as it involves a steady climb of about 1700 feet in elevation gain. But it is well worth it for the sense of accomplishment and the amazing scenery along the way.
The hike begins at Newfound Gap, where there is a large parking lot and a stone monument marking the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. From here, you cross the road and look for the white blazes of the AT. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but it can be rocky and muddy in some sections, so make sure you wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water and snacks. The first 3 miles of the hike are mostly uphill, as you ascend through a forest of spruce and fir trees. You will pass by several overlooks that offer glimpses of the valleys and ridges below. You will also cross several streams and bridges, some of which may be dry depending on the season.
After about 3 miles, you will reach a junction where the AT meets the Clingman’s Dome Road. This is where you leave the AT and turn right onto the paved road that leads to the summit. The road is closed to vehicles from December to March, but it is open to pedestrians and cyclists year-round. The road is about 0.5 miles long and very steep, so be prepared for a final push to the top. Along the way, you will see signs that explain the history and ecology of Clingman’s Dome. You will also notice a change in the vegetation, as you enter a high-altitude spruce-fir forest that is rare in this region.
Once you reach the end of the road, you will see a large parking lot and a visitor center with restrooms and a gift shop. From here, you have two options: you can either turn around and head back to Newfound Gap via the same route, or you can continue to the observation tower that crowns Clingman’s Dome. The tower is a concrete structure that stands 45 feet tall and offers a 360-degree view of the mountains and beyond. On a clear day, you can see up to 100 miles in any direction, including parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. The tower is accessible by a half-mile paved trail that starts from the parking lot. The trail is wheelchair-friendly but very steep, so it may be challenging for some people.
Whichever option you choose, you will have an unforgettable experience of hiking to Clingman’s Dome from the Appalachian Trail. This hike is one of my favorites in the park, as it combines natural beauty, historical significance, and physical challenge. I hope you enjoyed reading about it and that you will give it a try someday. Happy trails!