Okay, so Clingman Dome’s real claim to fame is being the highest point in the state, but lets face it – that viewing tower at the top of the mountain? That is totally reminiscent of Jetsonian 1962 futuristic architecture! Seriously! Or possibly a flying saucer according to my father…
Is it goat approved? Nope. Trails are very popular and the park rangers thicker than rainbow flags at a Pride Parade.
How you get there: Google Clingman’s Dome. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Cherokee, NC. Parking is limited and fills quickly.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 0.5 miles one way, or 1 mile out and back. The grade up the trail is significant.
Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year except when the road to the dome is closed from December to March.
Trails to Take
Park and walk. The trail to the top is paved and pretty much straight ahead. There are side trails, among which I would recommend the short 2 mile or so round trip to Andrew’s Bald where wildflowers can be viewed in season. And of course, the crossing of the Appalachian Trail.
Supposedly on a good day you can see 100 miles from the top of Clingman’s Dome, including several nearby towns. There is also a unique spruce forest occupying the summit, which exists here because the high elevation produces an unusually cool climate. I have heard several reasons as to why many of these spruce trees are dead – ranging from European beetles to excessive car exhaust. Whatever the reason, they add a unique flare to photography at the summit.
And one final interesting story about Clingman’s Dome – supposedly the Cherokee believed that on this summit was a sacred, hidden lake known only to bears. The bears would come to it to be healed of wounds and to escape from humans. If a warrior went on a vision quest on the mountain it was said he might be able to find the lake. Apparently you would know you had found the right body of water by the thousands of bear paw prints on the shore from all the bears that had come to bathe in the waters.
- The only restrooms are pit toilets in the middle of the parking lot. There doesn’t appear to be any restrooms at the visitor center or at the top of Clingman’s Dome.
- The trail is paved but the grade is significant enough the park service has a sign warning people it is dangerous to take strollers…probably because if you let go your offspring is pretty much a gonner! If you are bringing a relative with a heart condition, out of shape, or elderly they may not have much fun climbing to the top, though there are plenty of places to rest.
- Strollers will not make it into the visitors center or very easily up the ramp to the viewing tower. Plus see proceeding point about offspring annihilation. Make the kids walk for this one.
- There is a giant pile of rocks at the start of the trail that kids (and adults) like to climb and can legally do so.
- The Appalachian Trail, always a glutton for punishment, crosses right at the top of the grade up to Clingman’s Dome. Cause making you climb the absolute highest point in the Tennessee on your way to Maine is character building or something I guess.
Seriously, when do I get my flying car and dream house on a single vertical stilt above the clouds?