Newfound Gap to Clingman's DomeWe arrived in Pigeon Forge Monday night and hit the hay early. Got up early the next morning and made the drive to Smokey Mountain National Park via Gatlinburg. We should have used the bypass road but instead, went right through the tourist area. Once inside the state park, we stopped at the Sugarland visitor center and picked up a few maps. It was about a 20 minute drive from there to Newfound Gap. From there we picked up the Appalachian Trail heading south. It was a pretty nice hike with nothing technical. We saw lots of dead (uprooted and toppled) trees. It was pretty sad. They looked as if they had just lost root strength and pulled right out of the earth, taking a giant dirt clod with them. We were told that APHIDS had taken over many of the trees. They sure did a number on the forest.
We passed a few other hikers that were doing the entire AT (they seemed like they were getting a late start in the year to be hiking to Maine.) We had great weather for the first 5 miles but after that, the clouds began to roll across the ridges we were crossing. We made quiet a few photo stops to take in the awesome views. About 3 hours later, (7.9 miles later) we arrived at Clingman’s Dome. It was packed with people. We were disappointed that we couldn’t find a benchmark. Once we got to the top of the tower, it started to rain. I mean a cold rain. It was miserable. Visibility was about 4 feet.
We had planned to hike back down to Newfound Gap, but since it was pouring and we were already pretty wet, we hitched a ride with a few other hikers. It wouldn’t have been much fun hiking in the pouring rain. Later on, I read that the tower is actually the benchmark for this Highpoint. I would think they would at least have an elevation survey in the side of the dome or somewhere near the base. I think the most exciting part of this hike was actually being on the Appalachian Trail.