Elevation: 6,643 feet
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Visited: November 2021
Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and is at the highest point in all of Tennessee. You can drive most of the way up to the summit and from the parking lot there’s a short, but steep path up to an observation tower that provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding area.
We planned to spend the day in the Great Smoky Mountains, so naturally we had to visit the highest peak in the park, especially since it doesn’t require much effort to reach. It also seemed like it was meant to be as we were visiting late in November and the road leading up to Clingmans Dome typically closes from early December through late March due to the weather. Once we made it to the parking lot, we could see why as the conditions were quite harsh.
From the parking lot there’s a short path that’s paved and leads to an observation tower on the summit. The trail is 800 metres (or half a mile) in distance, but is pretty steep. The sign at the trailhead indicated that clouds sometimes shroud the tower and rain is frequent. So we were lucky to have such bright blue skies, especially since earlier in the morning it was overcast.
We huffed and puffed our way up the mountain, stopping to take plenty of pictures along the way of the snowy landscape. It was windy and the temperature was significantly colder than at the base of the mountains.
Along the hike to the summit, we noticed a few dead trees along the trail. These are Fraser firs, which only grow at higher elevation levels in the Smokies. Since the 1960s, the balsam woolly adelgid, a non-native insect, was accidentally introduced from Europe and has since killed over 70% of the park’s mature firs.
Near the summit, the path branches off for the larger Appalachian Trail. But we were on a mission so we kept to the main trail.
Once we reached the base of the observation tower, the crowds had thinned. The path to the top was quite icy and for many people, this was as high as they went. But we kept going. Oh wow could we really feel the wind from above the treetops. The nice thing about the harsh conditions was that most people didn’t stay long at the top of the tower, which meant there was hardly anyone else up there.
The landscape looked beautiful with all the snow encrusted spruces and firs. From the top of the tower we enjoyed the panoramic views of the mountains. The misty blue-gray clouds for which these mountains were named, occur naturally as a result of great quantities of evaporating moisture. Unfortunately, there’s also a whitish haze that limits the views due to air pollution. Either way, the views were outstanding, especially with such clear skies.
There were a few interpretive panels at the top of the observation tower, but they were all covered in ice and impossible to read. I took as many pictures as I could before I couldn’t feel my fingers. It was time to turn around.
We walked back the way we came and stopped to take a few more pictures from the parking lot of the surrounding landscape and mountains. We were eager to get back in the car to blast the heat.