There’s a Secret Tunnel in the Smoky Mountains That Leads to Nowhere

clingmans dome and the secret tunnel

The tunnel, located near Clingmans Dome, is 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 existed. (photos by Marie Graichen and James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The hidden tunnel at Clingmans Dome that’s becoming a tourist attraction in its own right

Nearly everyone who has visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is familiar with Clingmans Dome and its famous observation tower, located along the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina. Completed in 1959, the Clingmans Dome observation tower is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains. It stands over 6,000 feet tall and offers 360-degree views. On clear days, guests can see almost 100 miles in any direction from the top of the tower. But have you heard of the secret abandoned hiking tunnel below Clingmans Dome?

The Clingmans Dome observation tower is famous in the Great Smoky Mountains. But many people do not know about the abandoned tunnel below it. It’s a former underpass that was eventually cut off from the main trail. Now it serves as one of the hidden gems around the Smoky Mountains. It’s located near Clingmans Dome Road, down the hill from the large stone bridge.

Clingmans Dome with ramp
The Clingmans Dome observation tower is an iconic landmark. But there’s a lesser-known landmark nearby – an old abandoned hiker’s tunnel (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

The hidden tunnel at Clingmans Dome

There’s an old tunnel near Clingmans Dome, but it’s not exactly “under” it. You won’t readily find this old hiker’s tunnel on Google Maps. It’s a former hiker’s underpass that’s gone by many names as years have passed including Thomas Divide Tunnel, Thomas Ridge Tunnel, Old Mule Tunnel and simply The Hiker’s Tunnel. It was constructed in the mid to late 1930s by a group of young men known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The tunnel is made of locally sourced stone and features an ornate archway on either side of the road. The completion of Clingmans Dome Road required rerouting the trail. One option could have been rerouting the trail to cross Clingmans Dome Road on the roadbed. However, engineers decided to build the tunnel under the road. Alternatively, the Association also speculates that the tunnel may have been constructed for equestrian use. Some records show that it was used as a mule trail.

Clingmans Dome Tunnel
The tunnel is made of locally sourced stone and features ornate archways on either side (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How the tunnel got cut off from the original trail

In the 1960s, the tunnel was cut off from the original trail and stranded due to the Mission ’66 initiative. It was the initiative’s mission to improve infrastructure across the entire national park system. That led to the rerouting of several old roads to improve overall driving conditions, including the upper section of Newfound Gap Road. This rerouting cut off the old trail, forcing the trailhead to be relocated further south. That’s why you won’t happen upon it unless you’re looking for it. It’s no longer part of any regular path or hiking trail. It leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once existed.

Today, it serves as one of the hidden gems around the Smoky Mountains that hikers enjoy finding. It’s an iconic landmark, a forgotten relic that is fun to discover, like the old fairy house from the Voorheis estate or relics from the ghost town in the Elkmont area.

A look inside the Clingmans Dome tunnel
The tunnel has been cut from the main trail, but visitors can still find it if they know where to look (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How to find the secret tunnel

But just because you are unlikely to happen upon this secret tunnel on accident doesn’t mean it’s difficult to find if you know where to look. To find it, take Clingmans Dome Road until you reach the access gate. From there, simply park your car and walk approximately 0.2 miles up to the far side of Clingmans Dome Road. When you reach the large stone bridge that you’d normally drive across in your car, walk down the hill. You will spot the tiny abandoned tunnel.

Pro-tip: It might be a bit easier to access in the off-season when you know traffic won’t be an issue. Clingmans Dome Road usually closes from December to April. This will also make it harder to miss the gate landmark since the gate will be blocking vehicle access.

the view from the other side of the tunnel
Today, the tunnel simply leads to a cliff with a beautiful view (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Did you know about this secret tunnel in the Smokies of Tennesee and North Carolina? What are some of your favorite secret spots in the park? Let us know in the comments below.

the tunnel exterior
But just because you are unlikely to happen upon this secret tunnel on accident doesn’t mean it’s difficult to find if you know where to look (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

RELATED VIDEO: The Secret Tunnel Under Clingmans Dome

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11 thoughts on “There’s a Secret Tunnel in the Smoky Mountains That Leads to Nowhere”

  1. Wow,I’ve been there many times,I’m from S.C.an visit the Reservation to see family a couple times a month,also have lived in Cherokee N.C,a few times to,but never knew of this??When I go up,I always go over the mountian to Tennessee.I thought I had explored everything from Cherokee to Tennessee,But not this,Can’t wait to take my next trip, definitely a must do!!!

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  2. So glad to learn about the secret tunnel. There is always something interesting to learn about the Smokies.

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  3. Park in front of the park service weather station. Follow the road towards Clingman Dome til you come to the rock bridge. It’s not a far walk. Maybe two city blocks Climb down under it. There it is.

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  4. Thanks for sharing… we just found the Fairy House and Troll Bridge this year… will add this to my “To Visit” list!

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  5. This made me think of our current government as an analogy, going to nowhere. In the last few years it feels like our country has been torn apart leaving hardly a glimmer of unity overall. There are so many different factions, all ranting and raving about their cause, and everyone wants to fight. Seeing this tunnel to nowhere in the Smokies must be a really nice experience, but living this one in our country isn’t very nice.

    Reply

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