Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Rising 6,643 feet above the Great Smoky Mountains, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail and provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. From it’s 54 foot observation tower the average viewing distance is about 22 miles, but on a clear pollution free day, views can amplify as far as 100 miles into 7 states.
The mountain was named after the Civil War General / US Senator, Thomas Lanier Clingman, a prospector who obtained much wealth from the timber and minerals of this region. Clingman originally measured Mount Mitchell as the highest peak, which of course it is at an elevation of 6,684 feet, but Dr. Elisha Mitchell also made this claim and after much debate and a decade later Mitchell went back to remeasure the mountain and fell to his death at the base of what is now known as Mitchell Falls. Clingman agreed that because of this tragedy Mount Mitchell should be named after Dr. Mitchell therefore, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was named after Mr. Clingman and is located on the state line ridge of North Carolina and Tennessee, the observation tower sitting equally in both states.
If you plan to hike the 1/2 mile of paved trail to the dome expect colder temperatures and remember weather conditions can change quickly at higher elevations. Snowfall is likely anytime between September and May, plus the wind can also be quite chilling. The Dome is open year-round, but the park closes the road from December 1 to April 1 or whenever snowfall occurs. Visitors are welcome to hike or cross country ski the 7 miles from the gate to the Dome parking lot during these times.
As visitors drive to the parking lot and hike to the Dome they notice many dead Spruce Firs, these trees were attacked by an insect known as the Balsam Woolly Adelgid, which was brought into the US accidentally in the 1800’s and migrated here from the New England states in the 1980’s and 90’s killing or damaging almost all the older fir trees, but young Spruce Firs are slowly growing to replace the lost timber.
There are several ways you can hike to Clingmans Dome from Bryson City. The Noland Divide trail is one option that allows you to start at Deep Creek Campground.