By Jeremy Patton
Clingman’s Dome is located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Swain County, North Carolina.
It is the highest peak in the Smokies, and the third highest east of the Mississippi River. It resides near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
From Gatlinburg, drive south on US-441 for approximately 15 miles then turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road. Continue for about 7 miles to the parking lot.
A paved path leads uphill for half a mile to the observation tower. It is short, but steep and moderately difficult.
I would not consider Clingmans Dome Trail as wheelchair accessible, but stunning views can be enjoyed even from the parking lot. One could probably push a wheelchair uphill and atop the tower (it has a spiral ramp), but if you lose control, it would be a hell of a ride back down.
Clingmans Dome Road is closed December 1 through March 31, due to winter weather (the tower remains open all year). The 6,643-foot elevation makes conditions more extreme than in the surrounding lowlands.
If Clingmans Dome Road is closed, you can park at Newfound Gap (less than 300 meters from the beginning of the road) and hike up the mountain. The Appalacian Trail parallels the road and passes within a few hundred feet of the tower. Do not attempt this hike unless you are experienced and in good shape.
Take a jacket when visiting Clingmans Dome, even in the summer. Visibility might be limited, so check the local weather before you go. If the conditions are not ideal, there are numerous scenic pull-offs along Clingmans Dome Road that provide panaramic vistas. The views from Newfound Gap are also spectacular.
For road updates, call (865) 436-1200, select 2, then 2 again. I obtained this phone number from the National Park Service website.
On 6/10/17, Shane, Angie and I hiked to the summit on a hot and sunny day. Angie stopped to sit on a rock beside the trail. I then spotted a small bear in the woods behind her, sniffing the air and staring at us curiously. In a matter-of-fact voice, I said “Hey Angie, there’s a bear behind you.” She yelped and leaped up as if stung by a wasp. She soon regained her composure and pulled out her camera.
We joked about the incident for the rest of the weekend. Angie was amazed that the bear had not startled me. I guess it takes a lot to get me excited, and the bear did not seem menacing. With that said, we did not approach it because wild animals are unpredictable and even a small bear could ruin a human’s day.