Once again we found ourselves in the park gift shop, perusing the postcard racks, which we have found is really a great way to last-minute half-ass “plan” a trip if you’re too lazy (like us) to look anything up beforehand. We were on our way out of the park until we saw a postcard for Clingmans Dome. Mid-century + space-age + observation tower + concrete structure + highest point in the Great Smokies + easily accessible = right up our alley.
At over 6,600 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee, and the 3rd highest point East of the Mississsippi. It is also the highest point on the AT from Georgia to Maine. Luckily for us and our fellow tourists, getting to the observation tower was a relatively easy, though steep, .5 mi hike uphill on a paved trail.
When we began our hike, the visibility from the trail was amazing — the bluest of blue skies, sunshine, trees all day. We wanted to get on with our hike so we decided to wait and take photos of the view until after our hike. As we walked toward the tower the hot afternoon sun beamed down on us and, combined with the heated effort it took to hike the steep hill, made us wish we hadn’t dressed in so many layers.
Upon arriving at the observation tower Sly told me to run up the ramp so he could take our standard “Veronika looking out onto the landscape photo.” I ran up the ramp, arrived at the tower, and peered out. In literally a matter of minutes, while standing at my post, the clouds blew in and covered the entire mountain top in “smoke.” I motioned for Sly to hurry up the ramp before the entire view was lost.
I could barely see the tops of the trees by the time Sly arrived. We thought initially that maybe the clouds would continue blowing, but after waiting in the observation tower for about 15 minutes we gave up and made our way back down the ramp. It was then that it started to sprinkle. Then it poured. Huge icy droplets of rain unleashed from thick black clouds accompanied by an angry wind dead-set on blowing every single person off the mountain.
As people took cover under trees and shrubs we raced down the trail, pausing to dry off a bit in the now overly-crowded (and tiny) gift shop, before running back into the cold rain to the shelter of our car. So much for taking those photos of the view.
We huddled in our car, heat blowing at full speed, trying to discreetly change out of our wet clothing while parked in the parking lot. Sometimes postcard planning has its pitfalls. If we had planned a little better we may have started earlier in the afternoon, parked a little closer. taken photos of the view while it was clear, and packed rain gear.
But then, where would be the fun in that?
Clingmans Dome // FREE / .5 mi paved trail to summit then another short climb up the ramp to the observation tower. The hike is short, but steep, and took us about 20 minutes or so to hike. / Parking, restrooms, and gift shop available. // The downside to postcard planning is that postcards usually highlight the most popular attractions with the most people, and this was certainly the case with Clingmans Dome. The parking lot was filled with cars and tour buses when we arrived. If you’re driving through the Great Smokies and don’t have plans on going on a real hike, then this is a good place to stop and check out the view. On a clear day, and even on a foggy/’smoky’ day, the panoramic views are pretty spectacular. The downside is that you will have to share it with many many people. If you don’t have much time in the park, then definitely stop. Otherwise, if you’re willing, hike to the top of Mt. LeConte for a more private view of the Great Smokies. TIP: Sunsets are supposedly really spectacular here.