Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail is a 1.3 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Bryson City, North Carolina that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is best used from April until November.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360 views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top. On clear days views expand over a 100 miles. Unfortunately, air pollution often limits viewing distances to under 20 miles. Clouds, precipitation, and cold temperatures are common at Clingmans Dome. Temperatures at the dome can be 10 -20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. In fact, the cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome's summit make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest. Proper preparation is essential for a good visit. Dress in layers and be sure to bring a jacket, even in summer. Although Clingmans Dome is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through March 31, and whenever weather conditions require. It's seven miles to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and there are scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top. Pets and bicycles are not permitted on the paved trail to the observation tower, or on any other trails in the area. A bike rack is located near the beginning of the paved trail to park bikes while walking to the top. You will need to bring a lock with you to secure your bike. Besides the trail to the summit, there are several trails that start on Clingmans Dome Road and parking area. The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its journey from Georgia to Maine. The Forney Ridge Trail leads to Andrews Bald, a high-elevation grassy bald.
Slept in a car in the parking lot just by the trailhead. Woke up at the butt crack of dawn and arrived at the observation tower an hour before the sun came up. Not many people around and was an awesome 2 hours of watching the sun rise.
Gate closed until 3/31
JULY 1, 2016 / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
For finally graduating with my Associates in Divinity from Grace College of Divinity in North Carolina, my wife and I spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains to celebrate both of our hard work; my studies and her putting up with me.
We decided to take on Clingmans Dome, which really is not daunting task. It is a concreted path with somewhat of an incline. It will wear out the not-so-in-shape person. They have a few places to take a sit on the way up if you get tired and you do start to feel it in your thighs as you ascend the pathway. Once you reach the top, the dome comes into view and what a view it is to see it peaking out of the tops of the spruce-fir zone.
One would think Clingmans Dome is a spectacular structure that beckons a moment of awe as it winds in spiraling form to the highest point in the Smokies. However, on closer inspection, the Dome is spartan and weather-beaten. The rock facade is beginning to deteriorate and the dome itself is showing signs of years and years of use.
Which is why there is an initiative by National Geographic to repair some of the nation’s greatest parks. You can visit VoteYourPark.com and vote for your top five parks to help unlock $2 million in preservation funding (only through July 5, 2016).
However, it was still a pleasure to visit the Dome. The views were not pleasurable since the day before experienced rain which left fog encompassing the altitude. Hence why they call them the “Smoky Mountains.” Through the fog, we got to see some distance but not much.
After some time we decided to hike the forest trails back to the parking lot instead of the over-publicized concrete path. At the Dome, you can take the Appalachian Trail for a half mile (or so) which then connects with Clingmans Dome parking lot trail. The AT was another chance to mark some mileage off walking such a prevalent and most acknowledged trail of all long trails (CDT, PCT, AT).
The fog cleared in some spots to give views to the rolling landscape below as we walked among the footsteps of those who had gone before on the AT; Benton McKaye, Grandma Gatewood, Earl Shaffer, Bill Bryson, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Warren Doyle, Bill Irwin, David “AWOL” Miller, Buddy Backpacker, Zach Davis, Baltimore Jack, Neva “Chipmink” Warren.
Knowing I’m walking in those footsteps was an honor for something I deeply respect and dream of.
After reaching the fork that takes hikers back to the parking lot of the Dome or continuing on the AT, we knew we needed to be getting back. We turned off the ridge line to walk back down the side of the mountain through the thicket of fir (so deep you couldn’t see ten feet to either side). We enjoyed the cool air, the shadowiness of the spruce coverage, the countless streams pouring out of the side of the mountain, and the occasional view when the trees opened up.
We knew we were getting close to the parking lot when we starting hearing voices. The trailhead presented boulders larger than a house that presented a small glimpse of our size in comparison that could easily give someone a sense of insignificance in this word. After reaching the trailhead we over heard a park ranger giving an answer to the constant question of all visitors: Why are some of the pine trees dying.
“Those aren’t pines, they are Fir trees and the balsam woolly adelgid is killing the Fir.” See here
I wished we could’ve had a better view but it was still pretty cool to mark a few things off the bucket list so it was worth it. Plus who gets the opportunity to view the Dome with fog coverage? You can see pictures all day long of the 7 mile view because no one thinks the fog is worth seeing but I enjoyed it.
Hope you enjoy the video.
Not far from the observation tower is a part of the AT trail that crosses to the right heading to Thunderhead MT, and to the left Andrews Bald. Both outstanding hikes through the smokies ridge line. *This is where I saw my first black bear*
Check the weather before you make the trip, if you hike the incredibly steep trail and get to the top and its too foggy to see, you'll regret it. Otherwise, amazing views, even from the parking lot. Worth the knee pain on the way down.
Loved the trail. Totally worth it. We were lucky, clear blue sky when we reached the top. Amazing. A stop at the ranger station is a must, to pick up a brag tag for your walking stick.
Did the walk up durning the last week of November, place was crowded to say the least bit had a wonderful time. Glad we were able to make the road closure deadline of December 1.
Great Views!!!! Steep walk up the hill to the observation deck. Well worth the walk.
well paved hike to observation tower. great views.
My husband and I came up here for the breathtaking views and photography. The walk up to the dome was nice, even though it was all uphill. What broke my heart were the empty water bottles and trash left by other hikers! The dome itself was littered with bottles, wrappers, etc. While everyone should be responsible to take out what they bring up, it would also have been nice if a trash can were available.
Too many people during the Fall season, but a good and sturdy hike up. Took the Appalachian Trail back down... so much better! Peaceful, quiet and some great mountain views along the way back to the parking lot!!