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?
IN THIS ARTICLE
RELATED VIDEO: The Secret Tunnel Under Clingmans Dome
Subscribe to our newsletter for area news, coupons and discounts
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.
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.
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.
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.