10 things you didn’t know about Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome

The observation deck of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

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If you’ve ever heard of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ve probably heard of Clingmans Dome.

Being the highest point in the most visited national park will grant you that kind of notoriety.

But with great fame comes great curiosity. Below we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this iconic landmark to help you plan your visit.

1. What is Clingmans Dome?

Clingmans Dome is the tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a very popular park destination and offers one of the best views of the Smokies.

It also has an observation tower at its summit, which was built in 1959 as part of the Mission 66 program, an effort by the National Park Service (NPS) to attract more visitors to national parks.

At the top of the tower (on a clear day), guests can see a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, spanning over 100 miles. It’s a great spot to watch sunrises and sunsets.

Clingmans Dome Visitors Center
The Clingmans Dome Visitor Center is located on the North Carolina side (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

2. Is Clingmans Dome in North Carolina or Tennessee? 

This is one of the most commonly asked questions about Clingmans Dome, and the answer might just surprise you.

Clingmans Dome is actually located along the state line, so half of it is in North Carolina and half is in Tennessee.

The visitor center is located on the North Carolina side.

3. How high is Clingmans Dome?

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet.

This makes it the highest peak in Tennessee and the third-highest point east of the Mississippi.

Mount Mitchell in North Carolina wins the title of the highest point east of the Mississippi, coming in at 6,684 feet.

Clingmans Dome
The walk to the top of the observation tower is a steep incline (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

4. How difficult is the Clingmans Dome hike?

Clingmans Dome Road, which is open from April through late November, offers the easiest way to get to the trailhead.

The road is a seven-mile drive and ends in a large parking area.

The parking lot can fill quickly, so arriving early is advisable.

From there, it’s a half-mile hike to the top of the observation tower. This hike is considered moderate in difficulty. The road is paved, but the incline is very steep. If you aren’t an avid hiker, prepare to take a couple of breaks to catch your breath.

Unfortunately, according to the NPS, the trail to the tower is too steep to be wheelchair accessible. Pets and bicycles are not permitted.

Of course, if you choose to hike to Clingmans Dome during the winter, the hike becomes much longer and more difficult, but it is also less crowded.

The popular Forney Ridge Trail is also found between Clingman’s Dome and Andrews Bald.

If you hike it in the winter, be prepared for snowy or icy conditions.

5. Is Clingmans Dome open year-round? 

Yes, Clingmans Dome is open year-round, including at night. Though the dome is open year-round, Clingmans Dome Road typically closes from December to late March and under certain weather conditions.

If you’re curious to see what the conditions are like at the top before you get there, you can always check out the live feed.

Click here to see the webcam.

6. Is Clingmans Dome free?

Clingmans Dome is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means yes, it is free!

Why is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park free? You can thank us Tennesseans and our deep and abiding distrust of the federal government.

Read Also: Why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free and others are not

A sign for the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

7. Is Clingmans Dome part of the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along the 2,144-mile journey.

Save that little nugget of information for your next trivia night!

8. How is the drive to Clingmans Dome? 

Clingmans Dome Road is seven miles long and offers the most accessible way of accessing the tower (when it is open for the season).

The road is curvy but not terribly steep. If you are familiar with mountain roads, it will seem par for the course. It’s nothing like the Tail of the Dragon.

Read Also: 6 tips for riding The Dragon: The most dangerous, curvy highway in TN

A view from Clingmans Dome observation deck
The view from the top is especially good if you hike on a clear day (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

9. Why is it called Clingmans Dome?

According to “The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States”, the mountain was called Smoky Dome by American settlers until the late 1850s, when it was renamed after Confederate general, Senator Thomas Lanier Clingman.

Some sources claim that Clingman argued that Smoky Dome was the tallest in the region.

It was later determined that Mount Mitchell was about 40 feet taller.

Read Also: The controversy of Clingmans Dome: The observation tower that weathered the media storm

10. How is the weather at Clingmans Dome?

This, of course, is completely dependent on the time of year when you visit. But, keep in mind that precipitation and cold temperatures are very common at higher elevations.

In fact, temperatures at the top of the dome can easily be 10-20 degrees cooler than areas down below. According to the NPS, the cool, wet conditions on the summit make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest.

No matter when you’re visiting this observation tower, it’s smart to bring layers and a jacket and be prepared for any type of weather.

Bonus tip: There’s a secret tunnel below Clingmans Dome

Finally, did you know there’s a tunnel below Clingmans Dome that pre-dates the tower itself?

It’s a former hiker’s underpass most commonly known as the Thomas Divide Tunnel, but it is also occasionally referred to as the “Thomas Ridge Tunnel”, the “Old Mule Tunnel” or simply “The Hiker’s Tunnel”.

In the 1960s, the tunnel was cut off from the original trail, so you won’t happen upon it unless you’re looking for it. 

It’s no longer part of any regular path or hiking trail and simply leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once stood.

Read Also: The secret tunnel under Clingmans Dome you never knew existed

Have YOU hiked to the tallest point in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

View the web story version of this article here.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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25 thoughts on “10 things you didn’t know about Clingmans Dome”

  1. I have hiked to the top of Clingmans Dome tower 2 times and thoroughly enjoyed it both times. Wish I lived close by so I could hike it every day or at least more often. The last time I was there was on 11/6/2020. Arrived before sunrise to be able to see the beautiful colors. I feel so much “at home” there even though I was born in and have lived in Mississippi all my life. I look forward to going back as often as I can.

  2. No unfortunately I have not made it up to the top! When my parents took me there, we had went into the gift shop and they proceeded to tell us tht the wind chill was -3 degrees and I had not dressed to withstand tht temperature! It was perfectly sunny and clear but I was Frozen!

  3. The hikers tunnel is miles away from Clingmans Dome. It’s far closer to Newfound Gap

  4. Yes I climbed it several years ago despite my heart condition & getting out of breath I was glad there were resting benches. The air is very thin. It was an accomplishment for me but it was a struggle & almost had a panic attack. I looked down to the parking lot & the cars looked very tiny. There were several other people noisily discussing at the top so I waited to take in the beautiful sight after they left & coming down was easier.😎

  5. I have hiked up it many times over the decades. I was about 6 the first time, the concrete walkway spiral was new back then. (1959?) My last time was several years ago, about 2015 or so. Now, age & impairments he’s won’t let me climb it again. The view is spectacular, but often cloudy and the air polluted slightly. Winter views was best, I recall, on my honeymoon in February.

  6. My husband and I hiked to the Dome from Elkmont campground, a little over 15 miles, and had a shuttle pick us up in the parking lot at bottom of the paved trail to take us back to our tent. It was a memorable hike.

  7. We climbed to the top of Clingmans Dome and the view is not disappointing! Depending on your physical abilities I’d recommend for many to take plenty of water and make use of the benches to catch your breath on the way up.

  8. I’ve been up to Clingman’s Dome several times.. sooo beautiful 😍♥️!! I cannot wait until I can get back !

  9. Yes I hsve been there 4or5 times first was back in 86 and the last was 15 or 16 just about every time I’ve been there it was cloudy or hazy.This one time we were above the clouds and that was all you could see except for the tree tops below us.I hope I can get back at least one more time while I can still walk fairly good.

  10. I live in Sevierville on English Mountain and spend many nights in my truck in meditation and star gazing. Many bikes to the top and everyone is different. Very grateful to live in such a special place.

  11. Done both the paved and trail hikes to the top. I recommend the trails and I’ve been to the Thomas Divide tunnel…pretty cool

  12. I took my boyfriend there over 40 years ago he was from Mi. Had never been there later we got married he got out of the Marines started working for Fed. Bureau of Prison we would go back as often as possible we’ve walked in soon to be 11 times next trip. We love the Dome.

  13. Climbed it with my husband for our honeymoon, long walk for sure but the reward was well worth it. It felt so peaceful! We had our first kid a year later and plan on taking her when she’s big enough to walk herself.

  14. I have climbed twice in my life. The view is astounding and worth the effort of the climb.

  15. My wife and I hiked up Clingman’s Dome with our son and daughter-in-law on September 6, 2021 to pay tribute to her recently deceased father whose last visit to Clingman’s Dome was in 2019. He struggled mightily in the grip of ALS to make it to the top in 2019, but make it he did. Yesterday, the four of us toasted Irvin with his favorite libation, Makers Mark, at the top of the observation tower. We all miss you, Irv, may you rest in peace.

  16. What an awesome view. We were lucky enough the day we were there, a park ranger was there and told us it was the clearest she had ever seen. Peaks were seen she had never been able to.

  17. My wife and I was there 09-27-2021 did not hike to the dome but LOVED the views at the parking lot. Our next trip will definitely hike to the dome would love to see it when the leaves are changing

  18. My husband and I started going to the Smokies in the 60s. Recently married went with my parents. Then went with some friends. Hiked Clingdome several times. My mother called it God’ country. Which it certainly is. We had 4 children and took them every yr for yrs. My husband passed in 2019. Now my daughter and hubby live in Townsend. So I visit them every chance I get. I could write a book never get tired of going. Oh, my son had a son and named him after Cades cove. Hid middle name is Cade we all love the smokies so very much.

  19. My wife and I hiked up today and the view is just awesome! While it is only a 1/2 mile hike, it is steep and if you’re not in good shape, plan on stopping a few times. Water and cameras are a must!!

  20. In 2013 I went to the top to celebrate retiring from 30 years US Air Force and then following with 17 years US Federal Civil Service. My great granddaughter and I walked up the ramp and starting loudly shouting at the top of our lungs: “PRAISE GOD”, “PRAISE GOD”, “PRAISE GOD” over and over again. It was wonderful to be worshiping Him and being as close to Him as possible (in Tennessee anyway) while still being on the ground and to let Him know publicly how much we love Him. He craves our praises. There were quite a large number of people there that day and others quickly joined in praising God. We all had a wonderful time.

  21. Nov 8 ,2021 wife Cathy and I hiked to top of Clingaman’s Dome , her 2nd and my 1st time. I wanted to turn around several times , but she kept prodding me to finish . I still don’t like high places, but the view is worth the effort.

  22. I made the 1/2 mile trail with my mobility scooter. The very last part of the trail was the most difficult the grade angle was just a bit over it’s capabilities but a little help from the back for about 10 feet. Wasn’t about to try the ramp I could see it was too steep.

  23. Yes I have been to the top on one occasion. It was a honor for me to go up as Clingmans Dome was named after my Great,Great,Great Uncle.

  24. February of 1984, I rode a Honda ATC 200 , in deep snow, up the 7 mile road and to the Top of the Dome Tower. Afterwards I was informed by a Park Ranger that it was not allowed. One of those things we do when we are young and immature but a great memory.

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