I interviewed a guy from East Tennessee once whose “thing” was mountain climbing.
He wasn’t a particularly rich guy, just a guy who loved the thrill of climbing up high in the tallest mountains in the world.
When we spoke, he’d just come home from a successful climb up Everest.
He tried to describe to me the pull, the attraction, of conquering the world’s tallest peaks. Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet in elevation. People perish every year trying to reach it.
But I’ve decided I like our mountains in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
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What are the highest peaks in the Smoky Mountains?
The highest peak in the Smoky Mountains is 6,643 feet. I like mountain peaks in the Smokies. You can get there in the afternoon, have a picnic with the family and drive back.
I’m not here to tell you one is better than the other. And of course, there is something to be said for that explorer’s spirit that drives people to test their own limits in a battle against nature.
So, here are the tallest mountain peaks in the Smokies, ranked:
1. Clingmans Dome: 6,643 feet
Not only is Clingmans Dome the highest peak in the Smokies, but it is also the third-highest point East of the Mississippi. Only North Carolina’s Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Craig rise higher.
The site is host to a scenic overlook designed in the 1950s. It’s accessible by a paved, but steep trail.
There are also several trails available from the Clingmans Dome parking area, including the hike on the Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald. The 54-foot observation tower enhances those 360-degree mountain views from that height.
On a clear day, it has some of the best views in the United States, expanding over 100 miles. Unfortunately, air pollution often limits viewing distances to under 20 miles. Weather conditions can also frequently affect views at higher elevations.
Clingmans Dome Road closes through the winter months. However, you are allowed to hike in from Newfound Gap Road near the Rockefeller Memorial where FDR dedicated the park. It’s a popular trail in the Smokies.
2. Mount Guyot: 6,621 feet
While Clingmans Dome is easily accessible for most of the year, Mt. Guyot is a different kettle of fish entirely.
The second-highest peak in the Great Smokies sits squarely on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Mt. Guyot was named for Swiss Geographer Arnold Henry Guyot.
Famed travel writer and librarian Horace Kephart viewed the mountain as part of dense wilderness.
“The most rugged and difficult part of the Smokies (and of the United States east of Colorado) is in the sawtooth mountains between Collins and Guyot, at the headwaters of the Okona Lufty River. I know but few men who have ever followed this part of the divide,” he once wrote.
Mt. Guyot was essentially isolated until the Great Depression. At that time, FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps cut a segment of the Appalachian Trail along the mountain’s western slope.
Today, the Appalachian Trail and the Balsam Mountain Trail are the only maintained trails that access the mountain. It’s one of the multiple peaks in the U.S. named for Arnold Guyot.
3. Mount LeConte: 6,593 feet
When the push to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was underway, a tent camp was erected near the summit of Mt. LeConte to welcome visiting dignitaries from Washington.
On that site, Jack Huff, a Gatlinburg mountaineer, began building what would become LeConte Lodge in 1926, predating the establishment of the park by about 8 years.
Today, LeConte Lodge is a fairly hard-to-reach, fairly hard-to-book getaway. The lodge and peak are only accessible by one of six trails – Alum Cave Trail, Boulevard Trail, Bullhead Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Brushy Mountain Trail and Trillium Gap Trail.
Supplies are brought to and from the lodge by pack animals, such as llamas. And bookings can be hard to come by depending on the time of year.
There are some overnight shelters available through the National Park Service. These require a backcountry pass and reservations.
It is possible to hike up to the peak and back out without spending the night. But keep in mind the trails can be fairly crowded and cover a significant rise in elevation. The trails range from 4.9 to 8.9 miles.
The Alum Cave Trail may be the most popular, leading hikers on a 2.3-mile trek to the Alum Cave Bluffs. It’s a scenic landmark that is essentially a giant rock shelf that offers spectacular views of the mountains and an insight into the massive scale of rock that makes the mountains. From the Bluffs, it’s an additional 2.6 miles to the summit of Mount Le Conte.
If you are looking for additional trails in the area, you can also check out some of the nearby waterfalls like Ramsey Cascades or Grotto Falls. But note that these will not get you to the third-highest peak.
4. Mount Buckley: 6,580 feet
Mt. Buckley is one of the sub-peaks on the Clingmans Dome ridge crest.
It’s reachable from the summit of Clingmans Dome via the Appalachian Trail or from the Clingmans Dome parking lot on the bypass trail.
The loop is less than two miles and is a good trail for hikers of varying skill levels.
5. Mount Love: 6,420 feet
Mount Love is another peak in the shadow of Clingmans Dome.
It’s heavily forested and doesn’t offer a lot of scenic views. It’s just to the northeast of the dome’s peak along the Appalachian Trail.
For avid hikers looking to collect the highest peaks in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this one is fairly easily accessible from the top of Clingmans Dome. Also, it’s pretty cool to tell everyone you know that you’ve been to the summit of Mount Love.
6. Mount Chapman: 6,417 feet
This mountain peak is located deep within the Smokies, crossing the Appalachian Trail within about 200 feet of the summit.
It’s named after David Chapman of Knoxville who was an advocate for the national park.
The peak usually requires a multi-day hike.
7. Old Black: 6,370 feet
There are a handful of ways to get to Mount Black, most of which are rated moderate or difficult.
Also located along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, it’s accessible via the Appalachian Trail.
8. Luftee Knob: 6,234 feet
Luftee Knob is one of the peaks along the Balsam Mountain Trail on the North Carolina side of the national park.
It’s a bit off the beaten path. In fact, this one should be reserved for advanced hikers only since a multi-day hike is recommended.
9. Mount Kephart: 6,217 feet
Horace Kephart wrote several articles in his life and was a major advocate for the formation of the national park.
Just before his passing at the age of 68, the U.S. Geological Board named a peak within the park in his honor.
Mount Kephar straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border, which exists in Sevier and Swain counties. It’s accessible via the Appalachian Trail.
Note that pets are only permitted on two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, which are the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
Have you visited any of the highest peaks in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!
View the web story version of this article here.