Clingmans Dome, located near the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just off of US-441 (aka Newfound Gap Road), is the most visited US State highpoint in the most visited US National Park. From the fairly unique lookout tower (often called the "flying saucer") one can see beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains, often with clouds nestled between ridge after ridge of mountains. This is the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail. Winter is fun up here as lots of rime ice forms on the tree branches and green plants can be seen completely coated in several millimeters of clear ice. Another good, but crowded, time to visit is during the fall foliage season when the leaves turn all different shades of red, orange, and yellow - quite the feast for the eyes.
The easiest way to visit the summit "flying saucer" is to drive up the US-441 to Newfound Gap (5000') and take the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road to the parking lot. From there follow a 0.5 mile paved path up to the tower. Another way to reach the summit is to take the 7.7 mile section of the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap which parallels the road to the summit. The former is the most popular way to reach the summit for highpointers while the second is probably the most popular way to reach the summit for peakbaggers in the South Beyond 6000 Program. Winter makes this trip more fun since the Clingmans Dome Road is closed and skiing in may be necessary. Ice on the concrete ramp to the flying saucer also makes for sliding fun :-)
For some reason more traditional hiking routes (i.e. ones with a reasonable length, don't follow roads, and have a moderate elevation gain - more than 1700') seem less popular on this peak. The following are good alternative routes if you are looking for some good elevation gain:
For winter ascents try the Goshen Prong Route but start at Fighting Creek Gap on Little River Road since this is more likely to be plowed than the spur road to Elkmont.
SUMMIT PARKING LOT AND NEWFOUND GAP: This is very straight-forward. Just drive into the park on US-441 passing Gatlinburg (Sugarlands GSMNP Visitor Center & Park HQ) on the north or the Eastern Cherokee Indian Reservation (Oconaluftee GSMNP Visitor Center) on the south. For those coming from the north and east, I-40 is the closest Interstate. Once you get into the park just drive up to the middle, Newfound Gap, and turn west on to the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road, if you can / want to.
The NPS will sometimes close the access road at US-441 due to snow . For winter trips, check with one of the ranger stations before making your visit (Ref: iamaclimber).
DEEP CREEK TRAIL APPROACH (NC): This is on the NC side of the park southwest of Oconaluftee. Turn north at the town of Ela or Bryson City using a road atlas (the National Geographic Road Atlas - Deluxe Edition helps but does not list road names / numbers) and this map.
FORNEY & NOLAND CREEK TRAIL APPROACHES (NC): From the Deep Creek Ranger Station drive west onto Lakeview Drive. Park where you intersect Noland Creek or drive to the end for the Forney Creek and Forney Ridge Trails.
ELKMONT RANGER STATION (TN): Drive to the Sugarlands Visitor Center in US-441 and turn west on to Little River Road. Drive pass Fighting Creek Gap and turn left on to the road for the Elkmont Ranger Station. Use this map.
Surprisingly None! There are no entrance or backcountry camping fees for this National Park! Perhaps others should follow their lead. Not likely - the reason there are no entrance fees is because of deed restrictions imposed when the park was created in 1934.
BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING PERMIT (OPTIONAL): If you want to camp in the backcountry a backcountry camping permit is necessary.
When To Climb
You can climb this peak year round, however, the Clingmans Dome Road is closed during the winter. The fair weather climbing season generally lasts from May to October. For those seeking a more unique experiencing the winter offers the chance to ski / snowshoe in and escape the crowds. Snow and ice can be found as early as November and lasting into April.
There are some useful fee-based developed (aka frontcountry) campgrounds such as the Deep Creek (1800' with 108 sites) and Elkmont (2150' with 220 sites) Campgrounds. Deep Creek is open April 6 - November 1 and Elkmont from March 16 to November 26. See the GSMNP Frontcountry Campground Page
for information, including reservations, on these sites.
Backcountry camping is free but requires a permit. The Double Spring Gap campground just west of Clingmans Dome fits in this category. Check this map for it's location. For information on backcountry camping see this GSMNP Backcountry Camping Page.
Bears are prevalent so bear bagging is advised. Food storage cable systems are available in certain areas to make this easier. See the GSMNP Bear Page for more information. In 2000 there was a fatal bear attack in the park.
The GSMNP Weather Page
has a number of useful links to current park weather, trail, campsite, and road information.
You can get up to date weather information from the following sources: