THE HIKE: Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet. It is also the tallest point in the Smoky Mountains and the entire Appalachian Trail which stretches 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. It is no surprise that the short trek up to the observation tower provides panoramic beautiful views of the mountains for miles and miles.
The hike is paved in it’s entirety. It is a wide trail that can accomodate many people. This is certainly a good thing because this trail is littered with people. The parking area is nearly always full and at times you may have to park up to a 1/2 mile away or even circle around until a spot opens for your car. One you begin the “trail,” it is very straightforward. Simply follow the pavement up to the observation tower.
With only a half-mile to the top, it is not very difficult. However, the grade to the top is very steep. You will find a large number of benches for those that simply need to rest every few hundred feet. Often people come to Clingmans Dome unprepared for what they face. You will see people attempting to walk up the path in heels, on crutches, and everything in between. In addition, people often do not realize how much of a temperature difference there is from Clingmans Dome to the base of the mountains. It can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler at the highest elevations. Also, the weather changes very rapidly. This can be an inconvenience in many other places, but at this altitude it can be dangerous. Always be prepared and respect the mountains when you venture out.
As previously mentioned, the views can be stunning on a clear day. The famed “smoke” in the Smoky Mountains often reduces visibility from the peak. Combined with a startling amount of pollution in the air, there are times when you will only be able to view the person standing nearest to you. The view is also tarnished by the amount of dead trees that dot the landscape. It could easily theorized that these trees were killed by fierce storms. However, it was something much smaller and less obvious. The balsam woolly adelgid made its way here from Europe and has caused havoc with the firs in the Smokies. The small insect attaches to the trees and essentially sucks them dry. The tree carcasses can be seen all around you.
This hike offers first-class views, and the busy trail is a direct result of this. You should plan to do this hike early in the day or on a weekday outside of the peak months. Keep in mind that Clingmans Dome Road is closed from December 1-March 31 to cars, so be sure to plan accordingly. You can find more information about Clingmans Dome HERE.