The Clingmans Dome hike in Tennessee
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Clingmans Dome Hike: The Highest Point in the Smoky Mountains

As far as state high points go, hiking Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the highest point in Tennessee, is very unique!  From its whimsical circular observation tower sitting aloft the treetops, to its deceptively challenging uphill climb, this trail is a highlight of both Smoky Mountains National Park and the 50 U.S. state high point hikes!


Hiking Clingmans Dome Tennessee


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Clingmans Dome Tennessee


The Clingmans Dome hike is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, the highest point in the entire National Park, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, and the highest point in the entire state of Tennessee!  Nestled in the heart of this incredibly popular National Park, Clingmans Dome is well known, well cherished, and well traveled.  However, many of its guests may not fully realize what they are in for, as this state high point hike to the highest point in Tennessee is quite steep and challenging, even though it is short.  The payoff is worth it, but to best enjoy your visit here, it is worth it to be prepared!


Hiking Clingmans Dome


Location of the Clingmans Dome Hike


Clingmans Dome Tennessee is located in Smoky Mountains National Park at the very eastern edge of Tennessee.  It actually resides literally on top of the border with Tennessee and North Carolina.  It is just one of a plethora of amazing forested hikes that can be found here, and is just one of the many reasons this National Park is so visited and so beloved!  You can’t go wrong with hiking any of the Smoky Mountain trails, but for the one trail that is literally at the “top” of the list, head to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains.




Things to Know Before You Go


Since Clingmans Dome is in a National Park, there are a few things to be aware of when visiting this state high point.


  • This is a popular National Park, which means it can be extremely busy, especially in the summer months.  Traffic can crawl through the park’s windy roads, and parking can quickly fill up.  Also, don’t expect to have the summit of Clingmans Dome to yourself, it is heavily touristed.  Most trails in Smoky Mountains National Park will be congested in the summer months.



  • The famed Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, be sure to look for the signs!


  • This hike caters to the wide variety of visitors that it has.  The trail to the summit is completely paved, making this a less rustic state high point hike.


  • Dogs are NOT allowed on this hike.  Technically, they are allowed up until the Visitor’s Center at the base, but not past.  And let’s be honest, no one is coming to Clingmans Dome with their dog to just visit the Visitor’s Center.  Unfortunately though, this is not a hike you can do with your pup.


  • The road to Clingmans Dome does close in winter, from December 1st through March 31st (and any additional times necessitated by winter conditions), so this is a state high point best visited in late spring, summer, or early fall.


  • Visitors may look at the popularity of this hike as a sign that it is easy, but Clingmans Dome is actually one of the hardest short hikes I have ever encountered, due to the continuous steep grade.  Don’t’ let this 0.6 mile one way up fool you, it is tough!  Please don’t wear flip flops , and please bring water!




The Appalachian Trail crossing Clingmans Dome
The Appalachian Trail crossing Clingmans Dome




How to Hike Clingmans Dome Tennessee


Hiking Clingmans Dome begins by driving through a large portion of Smoky Mountains National Park, which can be looked at as a positive since you will have a chance to see some of the park’s scenery just on the drive up.  There are lots of pullouts and scenic overlooks on the 7 miles up to the Clingmans Dome hike.


There is a large parking area at the base of Clingmans Dome, but it nevertheless fills up.  There are also bathroom facilities and a Visitor’s Center right before the start of the trailhead to the summit, but expect the bathroom lines to be long.


*for those not able to make the ascent, there are still some fantastic vista views from the parking area.


Views from Clingmans Dome Tennessee
Views from the parking lot of Clingmans Dome



Quick Facts on the Clingmans Dome Trail



Length: 1.3 miles roundtrip

Elevation: 6,643 feet

Elevation Gain: 331 feet

Clingmans Dome Elevation Chart
Clingmans Dome Elevation Chart


Rating: Moderate, due to steep grade uphill

Dog Friendly: No (and this includes the rest of the trails in Smoky Mountains National Park as well)

Estimated Time to Complete Hike: 30 – 45 minutes

Best Time of Year: since the road to Clingman’s Dome closes in the winter months, this state high point hike is best visited in the late spring, summer, and fall months.



The Clingmans Dome Trail begins just past the Visitors Center.  It is bordered by cliffsides on the right hand side, and panoramas over the left side.  The good thing about hiking up Clingmans Dome is it is honest, straightforward and consistent from the start.  The grade starts right away, and proceeds without a break until the top of the 0.6 mile one way ascent.  There is no hoping for a flat section.  But at least you will know that going into it!


I was surprised by the grade at Clingmans Dome, especially given the wide range of people who attempt its ascent.  This hike will definitely get your calf muscles burning and your lungs pumping, even if you are an experienced and regular hiker.  There are plenty of break spots and benches that line the pathway up.


The summit of Clingmans Dome makes the ascent worthwhile!  The observation tower takes on an almost alien-esque feel to it, as a circular platform offering stunning 360 degree views.  Instead of climbing straight up a flight of stairs to access this observation tower, instead visitors ascend a long ramp that gently winds from the base of the platform to its balcony.  This lends to a exhilarating feeling of being “suspended” mid air on the way to the top.


The Clingmans Dome hike in Tennessee
The payoff for hiking Clingmans Dome!



Views from the highest point in the Smoky Mountains!
Views from the highest point in the Smoky Mountains!



Whoever designed this circular observation tower and its ramp were clever in allowing for unending and unobstructed views the moment you leave the ground and proceed up the ramp to the top of the observation tower.  It is truly unique as far as state high points go.  That, and you’ll be hard pressed to find views that rival those of the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, and the highest point in Tennessee.


Hiking Clingmans Dome allows visitors to witness the Smoky Mountains in all their glory, from the inky blue summits blanketed in lush forest, to the wispy clouds that continuously dance among the peaks and valleys of this iconic mountain range.  This hike to the highest point in Tennessee solidly solidifies what is so wonderful about this park and its Smoky Mountains, and you won’t find a better viewpoint than Clingmans Dome Tennessee!



Summit views from the highest point in Tennessee and the highest point in the Smoky Mountains
Summit views from the highest point in Tennessee!



Descending Clingmans Dome is arguably easier than ascending, but take note of potentially needing to pump the brakes going down.  There are often significant crowds here, which means you can’t just fly down the mountain unobstructed.  Also, the grade is deceptively steep, so take your time going down to avoid any dangerous topples.


All in all, expect hiking Clingmans Dome to take about 30 – 45 minutes, give or take, and not taking into account how much time you wish to spend at the summit or simply enjoying the panoramas along the trail.


One obvious additional benefit to a visit to Clingmans Dome, is not only the chance to check off another U.S. National Park from your list, but also an opportunity to visit other parts of Smoky Mountains National Park and hike other trails in the park during your time there!  Visit Smoky Mountain National Park’s website for more information on other hiking opportunities here. 


And if you are interested in other state high points after Clingmans Dome, be sure to read more about the other U.S. state high points I have hiked in my quest to hit all 50, including some nearby state high point neighbors like Sassafras Mountain in South Carolina, or West Virginia’s Spruce Knob!



*Hiking Clingmans Dome gives you the double benefit of not only checking off a state high point hike at the highest point in Tennessee, but also visiting an iconic National Park as well! How many National Parks have you hiked in?


Check off all the National Parks in the U.S. with this National Parks Checklist!





The highest point in the Smoky Mountains!



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