Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Clingmans Dome via Appalachian Trail

Ascend to the second highest point east of the Mississippi on this 8-mile point-to-point that begins at Newfound Gap and winds through misty coniferous forest.
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Ascend to the second highest point east of the Mississippi on this 8-mile point-to-point that begins at Newfound Gap and winds through misty coniferous forest.

Although the Clingmans Dome observation tower can be reached via a ½-mile trail near the end of this hike, it's more rewarding to stash a car by the tower and shuttle to Newfound Gap for an 8-mile dayhike along the Appalachian Trail. Shaded by young spruce-fir forest, this trail has a rain-forest feel on wet days.

Hike southwest up a ridgeline on the AT, cresting the broad, 6,1118-foot summit of Mount Collins, before climbing gradually to the base of the observation tower. On clear days, views stretch across 100-mile expanses to seven states from the top of 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome. However, it's not uncommon to find the tower shrouded in a thick mist as well. For the best photo ops, time your arrival at the tower for sunset or sunrise.

-Mapped by Scott Sanders

PLAN IT

MAP
>> Trails llustrated Clingmans Dome/Cataloochee/Great Smoky Mountains NP ($10, natgeomaps.com)
>> View a map of the park at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
>> Order the USGS topo quads listed above at store.usgs.gov.
>> Order a custom map of this route at MyTopo.com.

GUIDEBOOK: Hiking Trails of the Smokies ($21, smokiesstore.org) details all 150 maintained trails within the park.

PERMITS: Required when camping at a backcountry campsite or shelter (free, reserve up to one month before your trip and pick up in person). Backcountry reservation office: (865) 436-1231, nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm

CONDITIONS: Check weather at Gatlinburg, TN (37738) Weather

SEASON: The park is open year-round, and our trail scouts have hiked this route in every season. Check for road, trail, and camping closures at nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm. Curious about fall foliage? Check nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm.

PARK INFO: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200; nps.gov/grsm

SMOKIES TRIP PLANNER: nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/trip-planner.htm

OTHER RESOURCES

GAS
Shell Super Mart
376 Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-2161

Texaco
799 Tsali Blvd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-4539

GEAR
Nantahala Outdoor Center
13077 Highway 19 W
Bryson City, NC 28713
(888) 905-7238
noc.com

Blackrock Outdoor Co.
570 West Main St.
Sylva, NC
(828) 631-4453

Mast General Store
63 N. Main St.
Waynesville, NC 28786
(828) 452-2101
mastgeneralstore.com

Smoky Mountain Outfitters
469 Brookside Village Way
Gatlinburg, TN
(865) 430-2267

GROCERIES
Food City
1219 East Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-3116

Bearland General Store
305 Historic Nature Trail
Gatlinburg, TN
(865) 436-4565

Bradley's Grocery‎
1699 Paint Town Rd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-9132

RESTAURANTS
Smoky Mountain Brewery
1004 Parkway # 501
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
coppercellar.com/Restaurant-SmokyMountainBrewery.html

Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria
968 Parkway # 9
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-4090 ‎
bestitalian.com

Granny's Kitchen
1098 Paint Town Rd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-5010

Peter's Pancakes and Waffles
1384 Tsali Blvd.
Cherokee, NC
(828) 497-5116

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.8

Waypoints

CD001

Location: 35.611259, -83.425293

Newfound Gap Trailhead: Follow the Appalachian Trail southwest for a ridgeline traverse. The trail gradually ascends the ridge through a spurce-fir forest on the northwest side of Clingmans Dome Road; cars can occasionally be heard close by.

CD002

Location: 35.609558, -83.446732

Continue straight @ 3-way junction past the trail intersection with Chimney Top.

CD003

Location: 35.590738, -83.474207

Go left @ T-junction to continue on the Appalachian Trail. To the right, a trail heads north for a short distance to the Mount Collins Shelter—a good stopping point for thru-hikers that want arrive at the observation tower at sunrise.

CD004

Location: 35.586418, -83.4727

Approach the broad, tree-covered summit of Mount Collins (6,118 ft.), one of the South Beyond 6,000 peaks; summit views are limited.

CD005

Location: 35.566724, -83.493605

Travel through lush landscapes resembling rain forest; you'll pass a mix of young spruce-firs, dead and decaying trees, and moss and lichen that blanket the wet undergrowth.

CD006

Location: 35.562909, -83.498497

Hike past the base of the tower on Clingmans Dome. This summit is the second highest point east of the Mississippi, and the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Climb the 54-foot tower for 100-mile views of seven states on clear days. On cloudy days, you won't be able to see the ground below the 54-foot tower. Next, continue straight and turn left @ the Y-junction ahead to descend towards the parking lot.

CD007

Location: 35.556848, -83.496249

Follow the wide, paved trail lined with benches for 0.5 mile from the observation tower to the parking lot.

Trail to Mount Collins Shelter

Location: 35.59079, -83.473992

Getting a late start on Clingmans? Hike into the Mount Collins Shelter for the night, then strap on some headlamps the next morning to check out the observation tower at sunrise.

The Smokies or the Amazon?

Location: 35.566759, -83.493369

Clingmans Dome Tower

Location: 35.563355, -83.498368

Clingmans Dome Tower

Location: 35.56298, -83.498497

Misty Views

Location: 35.556855, -83.496169

A misty view from the Clingmans Dome Road