Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s highest point. Located along the state-line ridge, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. It is the highest point in Tennessee, North Carolina, and all 2,144 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Clingmans Dome is a popular park destination. The paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower.

Clingmans Dome Directions

From Gatlinburg at Sugarlands Visitor Center, head toward Newfound Gap. Turn off Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap and follow the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area at the end. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail.


The drive to the end of Clingmans Dome, which ends in a large parking area adjacent to the 0.5 mile hiking trail, is seven miles long with scenic pullouts along the way. There are wonderful views of valleys and ridges as well. The 0.5 mile hiking trail at the end of the road takes you to an observation tower, the path is paved yet steep.

Views From Clingmans Dome

Vistas from Clingmans Dome are spectacular. On clear, pollution-free days, views expand over 100 miles and into seven states. However, air pollution limits average viewing distances to 22 miles. Despite this handicap, breathtaking scenes delight those ascending the tower. It is a great place for sunrises and sunsets. Cloudy days, precipitation, and cold temperatures reveal the hostile environment atop Clingmans Dome. Proper preparation is essential for a good visit.

Clingmans Dome Weather

Weather conditions atop Clingmans Dome change quickly. Snow can fall from anytime between September and May. Get a current weather forecast before heading to the tower. Temperatures at Clingmans Dome can be 10 – 20 degrees cooler than its low lying surroundings, so be sure to bring a jacket and dress in layers, even in the summer.

Weather Forecast

Hours of Operation

Although Clingmans Dome is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through March 31, and whenever weather conditions require. People can hike and cross-country ski on the road during the winter. The visitor center is open from 10 am to 6 pm in April, May, September & October and until 4 pm in June, July & August. In November it's open from 9:30 am to 5 pm.

Clingmans Dome Hikes

The paved walkway to the observation tower is actually considered one of the GSMNP official hiking trails, but the parking lot at the tower is actually the trailhead for the popular Forney Ridge Trail that leads to Andrews Bald. You can also use the Bypass Trail near the tower to access the Appalachian Trail.

Hiking Trails
Clingmans Dome in 2003

History of Clingmans Dome

The Clingmans Dome area is steeped in rich history. Clingmans Dome was an important place for the Cherokee people who inhabited the mountains. The Cherokee people have called the Smokies home for hundreds of years, dating back to before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. They believed the highest point in the mountains was home to the “White Bear,” or the chief of all bears. Clingmans Dome was given to the federal government by North Caroline in 1789. Clingmans Dome became part of Tennessee when it became a state in 1796.

cloudy view from Clingmans Dome

History Behind the Name

Clingmans Dome has had many names. The Cherokee people who originally inhabited the Great Smoky Mountains called this high point Kuwa'hi, which means “mulberry place.” As time progressed and settlers started moving to the Great Smoky Mountains, the area became known as “Smoky Dome.” The name of the peak was changed to Clingmans Dome in 1859 after Civil War Confederate general Thomas Lanier Clingman.

Clingmans Dome

Observation Tower History

Modern history of the dome is just as interesting. The observation tower that provides breathtaking views today was part of the National Parks Service’s Mission 66 program, which modernized the parks to meet visitor demand. The tower has local roots. It was designed by architect Hubery Benn of Gatlinburg and built by W.C. Norris of Waynesville, NC. Ground was broken in 1958, but there were several construction delays as Clingmans Dome weather can be quite volatile.

view from under the observation tower

Clingmans Dome Geology

Observation tower and Clingmans Dome parking lot opened to the public on Oct. 23, 1959. The tower cost a mere $57,000 to construct, which is about $510,000 in today’s money. Clingmans Dome is part of the Copperhill Formation, part of the Ocoee Supergroup. The mountains are made of metasedimentary rocks and were formed 560 million years ago. Today, geologists estimate that the Great Smoky Mountains erode and shrink about 2 inches every thousand years.

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