Clingmans Dome#5 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingmans Dome is not only the highest point in Tennessee, but also in the park itself. On a clear day, you may be able to see more than 100 miles. Take a jacket along – even in the summer – as temperatures at the 6,643-foot peak will be much colder than those in the lower elevations. There are several scenic pullouts along Clingmans Dome Road, which ends in a parking area at the trailhead. The trail is paved, but very steep, and leads to an observation tower at the summit. There are also several other trails that start at Clingmans Dome Road and its parking area, including the Appalachian Trail, which crosses Clingmans Dome and is the highest point along its route from Georgia to Maine.
Recent travelers called this the most amazing sight in the mountains, despite the steep trail. Many advised visiting on a sunny day, as clouds and fog can obscure the stunning views from the dome. Some noted that parking is limited and especially hard to snag at peak times during the summer and on weekends. Most also advised bringing warm clothing, and some said the bathroom facilities were less than ideal.
The road leading to the observation tower is closed from Dec. 1 through March 31, as well as other days throughout the year during inclement weather. A bike rack is located in the parking area near the beginning of the paved trail, as neither bikes nor pets are allowed on the Dome Trail or the other trails in the area. Clingmans Dome Road is 0.1 miles south of Newfound Gap, and about 7 miles off U.S. Route 441. Check the NPS website for directions and weather and trail conditions.
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#1 Newfound Gap Road
Also known as notches or passes, gaps are the low points in a mountain ridge. The Newfound Gap, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass in the park. The 31-mile, scenic Newfound Gap Road – U.S. Route 441 – runs through the center of the park from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina. Mile markers denote several interesting attractions along the way, including the Newfound Gap, Mingus Mill, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, and the Smokemont Campground and Nature Trail.
Recent travelers who drove along this route raved about the mountain views and photo ops, although some called the twisting mountain road "an automotive roller coaster." Many recommended the Newfound Gap visitor area for its quality facilities and access to trailheads, noting that the Appalachian Trail also crosses here. If you're visiting on a holiday weekend, prepare for crowds: some travelers said they were unable to find parking at many of the stops.
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