Great Smoky Mountains National Park | CLINGMANS DOME OVERLOOK TRAIL

Clingmans Dome observation tower

Clingmans Dome observation tower


See the Clingmans Dome Region web page for an interactive map.


Length: 1.2 mile, round trip
Time: 45 minutes, including time to take photos
Difficulty: Strenuous

Before getting to the hike, let me start off by saying that if you want to visit Clingmans Dome for any reason on a summer or fall weekend, get there by 8 AM. I did so and had no problem getting a parking space. Three hours later cars were circling three deep looking for a space, and people were parking up to a mile away along the side of Clingmans Dome Road.

Mid-day crowds at Clingmans Dome

Mid-day crowds at Clingmans Dome

The hike to the Clingmans Dome Overlook tower may be the longest .6 mile you will ever walk, for this paved path is straight up, rising 350 feet to the highest point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park at 6,643 feet in elevation. I saw many older and overweight people struggling to make it to the top, and if you have bad knees, coming down is murder on them. Don’t let the fact that it is paved fool you.

Paved trail to Clingmans Dome observation tower

Paved trail to Clingmans Dome observation tower

The trail is located at the end of Clingmans Dome Road, which branches off of Hwy 441 near its half-way point within the park. For those not wanting to hike to the overlook, you can get excellent views from the parking area in the morning, for the sun will be coming up off to the side and will light up mountains and valleys nicely. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the view from the parking lot is better than that from the overlook because you are closer to the mountains. When farther back at the overlook you see much of the forest that sits between it and the mountains. The downside of sticking to the parking lot is that you can only see in one direction, whereas from the overlook tower you will have a 360° view of the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

View from Clingmans Dome parking area

View from Clingmans Dome parking area

View from Clingmans Dome parking area

View from Clingmans Dome parking area

View from the Clingmans Dome Overlook tower

View from the Clingmans Dome Overlook tower

The paved path starts at the right side of the parking area just past the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center building. It took me about fifteen minutes to walk to the top and fifteen minutes to walk back down, and I spent about fifteen minutes taking photos from the overlook. You can also get some nice shots of the mountains on the way up.

Views from the paved trail

Views from the paved trail

Once you get to the top, a spiral walkway leads to the observation tower. Information panels point out what you are looking at in each of the north, east, south, and west directions.

Southwestward view from the Clingmans Dome observation tower

Southwestward view from the Clingmans Dome observation tower

The best views are in the same direction as the views from the parking area—to the south. The mountains in this direction sit farther back and give you a wide, sweeping vista, whereas to the north and east they are too close to the viewing area and you can’t get a good overview in these directions. A westward view is similar to that of the southern view. Keep in mind that the sun will always be shining in your face—assuming that it is shining at all—from one direction, depending on the time of day. If you want to get good photos in all directions you must hike to the overlook at least twice and at different times of the day. The overlook is also a great spot to see the sunrise and sunset, but I suspect everyone in the park has the same idea.

Eastern view

Eastern view

Northern view

Northern view

Southern view

Southern view

On clear days you can see for more than 100 miles. Unfortunately, such days are rare due to a huge increase in pollution. Popular belief is that the haze in the Smokies is caused by natural gases given off by the trees, and that may well have been true at one time, but since the 1950s the views have decreased 80% due to pollution, the majority of which comes from sulfur. This makes Great Smoky Mountains National Park the most polluted National Park in the country. On an otherwise clear day, visibility has been known to drop to one mile. The Smokies also receive the highest sulfer and nitrogen deposits from acid rain of any National Park in the country. Acidity is 5 to 10 times greater than normal. About the only time to get a clear sky is after a heavy rain storm.

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on March 15, 2020
Share this article