Revealed: 5 Secret Places to See on the Way to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains

scenic Smoky Mountain view in summer

The drive from Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome, a highlight of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a beautiful 7-mile, scenic Smoky Mountain drive. Along this road, there is access to the highest point in the national park, and the highest point in Tennessee, Clingmans Dome.

From the top of Clingmans Dome, visitors can see a panoramic view of the mountaintops. Along the road, there’s plenty of places to pull off to look over the mountains, and there are many short walking trails along the road, too. Below, we have highlighted some of the favorite places to visit along the way to Clingmans Dome. Check it out, and tell us what you think in the comments section below this article.

Top 5 Places to See on the Way to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky MountainsAutumn trees lining a road through the Great Smoky Mountains

There’s 5 places you absolutely can’t miss when you’re driving from Newfound Gap Road to the Clingmans Dome parking area. These are the places you’ll find along the way:

1. Indian Gap

Indian Gap is a historic site where 2 toll roads met (before the creation of Newfound Gap Road). The toll roads were the Indian route through the area. You can stop to walk down the hill, where you will still find marks where wagons were once pulled.

The 3.3 mile trail continues to the Chimney Tops parking area. For visitors who want to take the small detour along the road, it’s a wooded area with a small stream. It’s a good idea to have someone meet you at the other end of the hike, so you don’t have to make the hike uphill back to your vehicle.

(See Related: The Truth About Newfound Gap Road and Driving Through the Smoky Mountains)

2. The Fraser Fir

Along this area, you’ll find the remains of fir trees all around you.The trees in the upper elevations tend to look destroyed because of the acid rain and other pollutants in the air at higher elevations. Many of the firs have also been destroyed by the balsam woolly adelgid.

The balsam woolly adelgid are very small, wingless insects that made their way to the area in the 1900s. They infest the firs and, over time, kill them. Fortunately, some of the firs have built a resistance (or have a natural resistance) to these insects.

Sunrise in the Smoky Mountains3. Clingmans Dome

From the Clingmans Dome parking area, there is a fairly strenuous half-mile hike that leads to a ramp to the observation tower at Clingmans Dome.

There are benches along the hike to the observation tower, so visitors can rest and relax if they need to catch their breath. When you finally arrive to the top of the observation tower, you will notice a gorgeous mountain view that’s absolutely breathtaking. Some days the skies are clear and other days, you can see the smoky fog rolling through the peaks of the mountains. Many visitors have documented being able to see as far as 100 miles!

Share Your Thoughts! Scroll to the bottom of this article and tell us about the view at Clingmans Dome. What did you like most?

How Clingmans Dome Got Its Name

Peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were typically named after the scientists who discovered them. Thomas Clingman believed that the mountain was higher than any other in the area. When geographer Arnold Guyot did the measuring, Clingman was correct. So, Guyot named the highest peak in Clingmans honor.

To find out more about the mountains and their names, read our blog: “How Did the Mountains Get Their Names?

4. Weeping Wall

At the top of the mountain, you will notice there is quite a bit of moisture and water condensation. The rock walls along the road will show the dripping water, creating the so called ‘weeping walls.’ In the winter, these walls are remarkable because they freeze in icy conditions, forming beautiful ice sculptures.

5. Spruce-Fir Nature Trail

Before rounding out your day trip to Clingmans Dome, there’s a spruce-fir nature trail that’s a must see. Visitors can go into the Smokies with a half-mile round-trip hike. It’s a very easy walking trail, and there’s even a self-guiding brochure at the beginning of the trail to help show you along the way. This area is known for having cool, fir-scented mountain air, unlike many areas in the national park. There are lots of birds and small wildlife that can be seen along this trail, so make sure to have your camera and binoculars handy.

To read more about Clingmans Dome, you can visit the National Park Service website by following this link: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm

Tips from the Locals about the Drive to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky MountainsRay of sunlight shining down on the Smoky Mountains at dawn

Clingmans Dome is open year-round, but Clingmans Dome Road is closed in the winter (from December 1 through March 31) to prevent accidents in the icy and snowy conditions in the mountains.

The half-mile road you have to hike to the observation tower is paved, but it may be too strenuous for some. There are still beautiful views of the mountains from the summit.

Remember that the weather is much different at 6,643 feet above sea level. From the Gatlinburg area, to the top of Clingmans Dome, there can be a drastic change in temperature. Even if the weather is sunny and warm at the lower elevations, it is best to bring a light jacket for when you arrive at the Dome.

Your Turn to TELL US! Scroll to the bottom of this article and tell us about the view at Clingmans Dome. What did you like most?

The author will respond to comments by readers.

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  • Luke Johnstone

    Can’t wait to see this! I’ll be up there in two weeks, and Clingman’s Dome is one of the sights I am heading to. Now I know to look for other sights along the road. Thanks, Emily!