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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 the this iconic landmark.
1. What is Clingmans Dome?
Clingmans Dome is the tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It also has an observation tower, 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.
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 point 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.
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 Clingmans Dome.
The road is a seven-mile drive and takes you right to the trailhead. 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.
Unfortunately, according to the NPS, the trail to the tower is too steep to be wheelchair accessible.
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.
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 closes in the winter 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.
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.
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.
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 rain 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.
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
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 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 and simply leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once stood.
Have YOU hiked to the tallest point in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!
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