Even after the rain began to subside on Newfoundland Gap, I knew the view at Clingman’s Dome wouldn’t be clear at all, but at that point, I had come so far, it would have been silly to turn around and go back down the mountain. Plus, at 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi, which is reason enough to make the trip, in my opinion.
The turn-off to Clingman’s Dome (closed every December through March) is located directly across from the Newfoundland Gap parking lot, and the 7 mile road had several pull-outs and shorter trails for people to enjoy, if they so choose. At the end of the road is the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, bathrooms (read: latrines), the visitor’s center and trail heads.
When I got to Clingman’s Dome, the rain had slowed considerably, but the wind was incessant. I ended up zipping my water-proof jacket all the way up and tightening the hood as much as possible to protect my face, and especially my ears , from the cold before heading up the trail. *Side note: When I got back from the trip, I posted a selfie of my myself on the Clingman’s Dome trail, showcasing the weather behind me. It’s hilarious because all you can see of me in the photo are my eyes, nose, and part of my mouth. My friend W- told me later that his first thought upon seeing it was somewhere along the confused line of ‘I’ve done that trail in September. I don’t remember it being that cold…’
The trail is paved and only half a mile one-way, but it’s also very steep, leading from the parking lot to the 54ft observation tower. There are benches every half mile, though, so everyone can manage the hike. I passed one elderly lady with an oxygen mask hiking with her family, stopping to let her rest on every bench on the way up and catch her breath. Personally, my calves were still trying to seize up on me, so while I never had to stop, I did turn around and walked backwards for a bit to help stretch them out some more.
On a clear day at the Clingman’s Dome observation tower, you can see for miles. Clear days, though, are few and far between due to the nature “smoke” that gives the Smokies their name, as well as increasing pollution every year. By the time I got to the observation tower, the rain had stopped, but the visibility was nil. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself – examples of what the view should look live versus what it actually was that day: