The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers some of the most beautiful views in the country. If you've never experienced the Smokies you really need to get yourself to East Tennessee and take it all in. The highest point in the entire state is Clingman's Dome, which you should consider adding to your bucket list because it offers a panoramic view of one of the South's most beautiful sights.
Standing at 6,643 feet tall, Clingman's Dome is the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Craig in North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell State Park have higher peaks. At its summit, you can visit the observation tower, which allows you to see incredible views of the Smokies as well as all the way to North Carolina. It's said that on a clear day, you can see up to 100 miles out, but due to air pollution, on most days it's closer to 20 miles. It's located roughly 25 miles outside of both Cherokee and Gatlinburg.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), the "Dome" lies within Tennessee and North Carolina and refers to the mountaintop, not the observation tower.
To reach the peak, take Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap and the follow Clingman's Dome Road for seven miles to a large parking area. There are multiple scenic pullouts along those 7 miles with beautiful views along the way if you want to stop and take in the sights slowly. Once you reach the parking lot, there is a steep half-mile trail that will lead you up to the summit.
It's worth noting that even in the summer, you'll need a jacket since the area is prone to cold and wet conditions. Unfortunately, the road leading up to the summit is closed annually from December 1 through March 31 as well as periodically depending on the weather. But the observation tower is open year round. Always make sure to check the weather before organizing your trip. There are also no pets or bicycles allowed along the summit trail but there is a bike rack at the bottom for you to leave your bike before walking up the paved trail for the beautiful 360-degree views.
The Appalachian Trail actually crosses Clingman's Dome on its way from Georgia to Maine. The views of the spruce-fir forest from the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower will definitely give you some of the most amazing pictures you've ever taken.
This story first ran on Dec. 26, 2019.