The Clingmans Dome trail takes you to the highest point in Tennessee, providing sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Clingmans Dome Hike
Distance: 1 Mile round trip out and back hike
Elevation Gain/Loss: 330 Feet
Time needed: Approximately 1 hour
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Clingmans Dome Trailhead
Trailhead Elevation: 6313 Feet
Parking Tags - Daily - $5 Up to 7 Days - $15 Annual - $40 Parking Tag - Valid parking tags will be required for any vehicles parking in the Smokies starting March 1, 2023. Parking tags will not be required for motorists who pass through the area or who park for less than 15 minutes. Each tag will be valid for a single vehicle.
This popular park destination provides gorgeous views of the Smokies as you walk up to the top of the observation tower.
It is worth noting that this is one of the most popular spots in the park! Be prepared for crowds, especially during the summer and busy season.
The National Park Service has a small information center at the trailhead. This park visitor center is a great place to ask questions and find out more about Clingman's Dome!
Directions to Clingmans Dome Trailhead
If you are coming from Gatlinburg, simply go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park entrance.
From here, follow the Newfound Gap Road over the summit into North Carolina and past the Appalachian Trail.
Look for a sign to take a right onto the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the Forney Ridge Parking Lot(Clingmans Dome parking area).
There is a large parking area available but it does get busy! This is one of the most popular park destinations for visitors.
GPS coordinates for the Clingmans Dome trailhead are N 35.56289 and W -83.49849.
Common Questions about the Clingmans Dome Trail
When is Clingmans Dome open?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year-round 24 hours a day.
However, Clingmans Dome Road is only open from April 1 through November 30 (weather conditions permitting) each year due to inclement weather.
Depending on when you are visiting you will want to be prepared for wet conditions. Make sure to dress in extra layers and bring rain gear in case it is windy at the top of the tower.
Make sure to check weather conditions and expect it to be 10-15 degrees cooler than lower elevations.
According to the National Park Service not only is the summit of Clingmans Dome an incredibly popular destination it is also the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.
Are dogs allowed at Clingmans Dome?
Pets are not allowed on the Clingmans Dome Trail however you can take your pet for a walk on the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
How high is Clingmans Dome?
6,643 feet in elevation
How far is Clingmans Dome from Gatlinburg?
The drive is approximately 23 miles and will take an hour.
Distance from Bryson City - 36.2 miles
Can I watch Sunrise at Clingmans Dome?
Yes, you can! Sunrise from Clingmans Dome reminds me of watching the sunrise at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii!
They both oftentimes have the cloud cover in the foreground as the sun crests over the top of the earth giving you the first rays of light as you can feel its warmth.
Can I watch the sunset Clingmans Dome?
Yes, you can! The sunset here reminded me of the sunset in Shark Valley at Everglades National Park! There is a 15-mile loop trail in Shark Valley that had a very similar observation tower about halfway.
The big difference is that you don't have to climb much in the Everglades as it is a river of grass at about sea level but it also has sweeping views from the observation deck in a 360-degree circle!
I want to remind everyone to give themselves plenty of time if they want to see the sunrise or sunset.
Remember that it will take an hour to get from Gatlinburg and then you will have to hike in the dark for sunrise for a half mile straight uphill to the Clingmans Dome observation tower.
I personally love the golden hour which is the time right before sunrise and the time just after sunset. The skies burst with different tones of orange and create dramatic images.
Hiking Clingmans Dome
I highly suggest anyone who is capable to hike the trail to Clingmans Dome to do so! This is a paved trail the entire way from the parking area to the top of Clingmans Dome but it is not ADA-accessible as it is a steep climb.
There are several park benches along the way so you can take a rest before continuing your trek towards the top. Don't feel bad about having to stop either as you are in high elevation and can easily get winded, especially when you live around sea level.
There were even several people hiking back down the trail offering words of encouragement to those taking a break which is why I love people in parks! You will also get a chance to use your camera and take some incredible views as you continue toward the summit.
Shortly after seeing the Appalachian Trail crossing, you will finally see Clingmans Dome 54-foot observation tower. It's easy to see that you are going to have unobstructed 360-degree views from the top and is enough to give any hiker a shot of adrenaline to head straight to the summit!
This is a Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trip hike you do not want to miss!
The Appalachian Trail and Forney Ridge Trail, which lead to Andrews Bald, both connect to Clingmans Dome Road.
Is it worth the time to hike to Clingmans Dome?
Hiking the final steps to the top of Clingmans Dome Tower is very memorable and is easily one of those iconic views in the National Park System!
It's easy for me to say that it's my favorite spot in the Great Smoky Mountains! Make sure to take your time and enjoy this moment. The views are absolutely breathtaking on a clear day as you can see up to 100 miles away.
All that's left now is the easy walk back down to the trailhead. Don't worry, I found the views walking down to be more enjoyable as I looked out into the horizon.
I also found myself giving words of encouragement to those who were now sitting on a bench catching their breath on their way up to the summit.
This is one of the most popular park destinations for a reason!
Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station
Open from April to November.
Opening hours vary according to the season:
Spring - 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Summer - 10:00 am to 6:30 pm
Fall - 10:00 am to 5:00 pm / 6:00 pm (depending on the month)
It is located at the Clingmans Dome trailhead, 7 miles off US-441 on the Clingmans Dome Road.
It has a bookstore and shop, park information, and public restrooms for your use.
History of Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome, situated within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest point west of the Mississippi.
Originally, Clingmans Dome was known to the Cherokee as Kuwahi, meaning “mulberry place”. The Cherokee have inhabited the Great Smoky Mountains for thousands of years. The Cherokee called the Great Smoky Mountains, Shaconage, meaning "place of the blue smoke".
The dome received a new name from the European settlers who arrived in the area in the 1800s called the mountain ‘Smoky Dome’, because it was often shrouded in clouds. The summit came to be known as Clingmans Dome, after Thomas Lanier Clingman, in the mid-1800s.
Clingman's dome is home to an impressive observation tower built in 1959. The Clingmans Dome Observation Tower provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.
The Cherokee Nation and Clingmans Dome
Humans have occupied the Great Smoky Mountain region for thousands of years. The first to settle permanently in the area was the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee people used the land around Clingmans Dome for hunting, fishing, and gathering resources.
The area surrounding Clingmans Dome was historically part of the Cherokee Nation's ancestral homeland before the forced removal of the Cherokee people in the 1830s.
According to the Cherokee myth, what is now called Clingmans Dome was the home to the chief of all bears, who was the great White Bear. Furthermore, Clingmans Dome was the home of one of the bear's council houses.
The Cherokee told tales of an enchanted lake called Ataga'hi or Gall Place, that lay between Clingmans Dome and a tributary of the Oconaluftee River. The enchanted lake was said to have healing properties and was believed to be able to heal wounded bears.
The dome was, and is still regarded to be, a sacred place for the Cherokee Nation. Medicine men traveled to the summit of the dome to seek spiritual guidance from the Creator. The medicine men would then travel through the Cherokee villages and towns in the area sharing the wisdom gained from the summit of Kuwahi.
Smoky Dome Becomes Clingmans Dome
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, European American settlers began moving into the area. The settlers had their own name for the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains; Smoky Dome. The settlers gave the mountain this name because of its dome-like appearance and the fact that it was often covered in clouds.
In 1859 the mountain was renamed by Arnold Guyot (a Swiss-American geologist and cartographer) to Clingmans Dome in honor of Thomas Lanier Clingman. Known as the “Prince of Politicians”, Clingman was a U.S. Senator and attorney from Asheville, North Carolina.
In addition, Clingman was a notable explorer and had surveyed much of the Great Smoky Mountain region in the 1850s. Clingman was the first person to accurately measure the Smoky Dome's height. The explorer became involved in an argument with Professor Elisha Mitchell from the University of North Carolina.
The argument was about which peak was the tallest in the region. Before Clingmans claim that Smoky Dome was the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, it was believed that Mount Mitchell was the tallest. Guyot renamed the mountain after this argument.
When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Clingman served in the Confederate army as a general. He refused to give up his senate seat and was expelled in absentia. During the war, Clingman led the 25th North Carolina Infantry, where he fought in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
Additionally, Clingman and the 25th North Carolina Infantry fought at the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Siege, and Battle of Petersburg. After the war, Clingman continued to explore and measure the mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.
The Observation Tower at Clingmans Dome
The 45-foot concrete observation tower was built in 1959 to give visitors a chance to get an unobstructed view of the valley and mountains. The tower has a circular observation deck accessible by a 375-foot spiral ramp. The ramp mirrors the Clingmans Dome Trail.
The observation tower was built as part of the National Parks Service Mission 66. This was a 10-year plan designed to upgrade several National Park facilities due to the large increase in tourism during the post-World War II era.
The observation tower allows you to look upon the valley and mountain range that were once the Cherokee Homelands. From the circular viewpoint, you can contemplate what life may have been like for those early settlers etching out a living in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Want to know more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Great Smoky Mountains Camping Guide - Learn more about all of Smoky Mtns NP Campgrounds.
Lodging near Great Smoky Mountains NP
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Gatlinburg - We have stayed in this hotel the past few times we visited the park and it has been great. Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Gatlinburg Downtown provides free continental breakfast, a terrace, and dry cleaning/laundry services. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a fireplace in the lobby and a gym.
Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg - Located close to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg provides a firepit, a coffee shop/café, and a garden. Indulge in a massage, a body scrub, and a facial at St. Somewhere Spa, the onsite spa. Enjoy a meal at the two onsite restaurants. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with laundry facilities and a bar.
Hampton Inn Gatlinburg - Hampton Inn Gatlinburg Historic Nature Trail provides free self-serve breakfast, a fire pit, and a garden. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with dry cleaning/laundry services and a gym.
Glenstone Lodge - Glenstone Lodge provides amenities like a terrace and a 24-hour business center. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi.
The Park Vista - a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel - provides a terrace, a garden, and a playground. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. Enjoy a meal at the two onsite restaurants. In addition to dry cleaning/laundry services and a fireplace in the lobby, guests can connect to free Wi-Fi in public areas.
Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg - provides golfing on-site, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a fireplace in the lobby. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. The onsite restaurant, Garden Grille, features happy hour. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with a bar and a gym.
Click on the map below to see additional hotels and vacation rentals near Great Smoky Mountains.
Parks to visit near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Blue Ridge Parkway
Manhattan Project National Historic Park - Oak Ridge, Tennessee