Sitting 6,643-feet above sea level, Clingmans Dome is a popular destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s Tennessee’s tallest mountain and the third tallest in the eastern U.S. If you’re planning a visit here, you’re probably wondering how much time do you need at Clingmans Dome?
How long you spend admiring the panoramic views at the top is up to you. However, there are different amounts of time you need to set aside depending on how you plan to reach its heights and what you want to do in the area. Read on to find out details in this guide for visiting Clingmans Dome.
How much time do you need at Clingmans Dome?
The time you will need for a visit to Clingmans Dome depends on how you get there. You can drive or take one of the hiking trails below, depending on what type of experience you want. If all you want to do is hike up to the observation tower then you can do that in about 30 minutes if you’re in decent shape. If you get caught up doing other things then you can spend a whole day in the area.
Here are some 6 things to consider when going to Clingmans Dome.
1. Driving to Clingmans Dome
To drive to Clingmans Dome, you’ll take the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road that winds its way around the mountains. The speed limit never exceeds 35 miles per hour, and sometimes cars drive slower to take in the scenery, so expect it to take at least 15 minutes. It could be longer if you pull off at the various scenic stopping points along the way.
If you are driving from downtown Gatlinburg, it is around 23 miles away and can take about an hour to get to the visitors center where the trail to the observation deck is.
Once you reach the parking lot or visitors center, you’ll have to hike the half-mile trail to the observation deck. The trail typically doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, even when factoring in brief rests. If you’re not up for any hike at all, you can still see great views from the visitors center and parking lot area. Although at a lower elevation, the scenery is still stunning, especially on clear days.
2. Hiking the Mount Buckley via Clingmans Dome bypass trail
One of the easiest hikes to Clingmans Dome is the Mount Buckley via Clingmans Dome bypass trail. This loop trail is 1.7 miles long, cuts into a portion of the Appalachian trail and only has an elevation of 430 feet. It’s a great alternative to taking the paved trail and suitable for the whole family. The trail should take around an hour if you’re going at a slow pace.
3. Hiking the Andrews Bald trail
A moderate trail that’s still great for beginners who want a challenge is the Andrews Bald trail. It starts at the Clingmans Dome parking lot and goes for 3.5 miles with an elevation of 860 feet. The trail will take between 2 hours to 2 hours and 15 minutes at a slow or normal pace. Although the trail is open throughout the year, it’s even more beautiful in the spring and summer with the wildflowers.
4. Hiking the Forney Ridge trail to Clingmans Dome loop
Another moderate but slightly longer hike to Clingmans Dome is the Forney Ridge trail. The route starts near Bryson City and typically isn’t as busy as other trails. It’s a 4.5-mile hike with an elevation of 1,100 feet that will take around 2 to 2.5 hours at a regular pace if you pack lightly. During the spring, there are also plenty of wildflowers along the hike.
5. Hiking the Little River trail
The Little River trail, also called the Goshen Prong trail, is a beautiful but hard trail, intended for experienced hikers looking for more of a challenge. It’s 13.2 miles long and covers an elevation of 4,500 feet. You’ll also have rocky ascents and river crossings to keep things interesting. It’ll take at least 8 hours at a normal pace with a regular pack weight.
The trail starts at the Elkmont Ranger Station near Gatlinburg and you’ll pass the Elkmont camping area that’s a great location to overnight. But, make sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
6. Hiking the Appalachian Trail
For the ultimate challenge and longest hike, you’ll want to try out the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam. This trail is recommended only for experienced hikers since it’s 29.9 miles long with an elevation of 5,600 feet. It’ll take at least 16 hours with a regular pack weight and normal pace.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point of the Appalachian trail, and there are several places for shelters to stop and rest along the way. So, make sure to add extra time for your planned stops and you might want to consider camping for the night.
Planning your visit to Clingmans Dome
When planning a visit to Clingmans Dome, you’ll want to reach the 54-foot observation tower at the top for the best experience. Here you’ll get stunning views of the Smoky Mountains and can see up to 100 miles ahead of you on clear days.
Do note that you can’t drive all the way up to the observation deck. You’ll need to hike a half-mile paved trail from the parking area and visitors center. This trail is wide enough where wheelchairs and strollers can go up. However, it is pretty steep. If you need to rest and relax during your walk, there are benches along the way.
The visitor center and gift shop are open from 10 AM to 4 PM during the summer and 10 AM to 6 PM during the spring and fall. Also, there are bathrooms nearby at the Clingmans Dome parking lot if you need a pitstop before the hike.
When is Clingmans Dome open?
Clingmans Dome is open throughout the year. However, the Clingmans Dome Road is closed from December 1st to March 31st during the winter to prevent accidents in snowy and icy conditions. The only way to reach the observation deck during the winter is to get your gear together and go on a hike
June and July are two of the best months to visit Clingmans Dome since the weather is warm without being too hot like August. However, October allows a visit without the crowds and while it still isn’t too cold.
What is there to do at Clingmans Dome?
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do at Clingmans Dome and various hiking trails will take you to the observation deck. Once at the observation deck, you’ll want to have your camera ready for capturing amazing photographs. Other things you can do in the area include:
- Having a picnic at the grassy area near the Clingmans Dome parking lot entrance
- Going skiing on the closed Clingmans Dome road during the winter
- Observing the wildlife on nearby trails or at the observation deck