Can You Hike to Clingmans Dome in the Winter?

February 21, 2023

So you’ve planned a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, and you’re super excited to see one of the most popular spots in the national park: Clingmans Dome. But then you find out that the access road to get to this observation tower closes from December to March. Now what are you going to do on your winter trip to the Smokies? Well, the good news is you can still get to Clingmans Dome; it’ll just take a little longer! Here are a few ways you can still get to the tower in winter.

Hike Clingmans Dome Road

clingmans dome path covered in frost in winterWhile the road to get to the observation tower is closed, the actual destination isn’t. So some people will park at the end of the road and walk Clingmans Dome Road to take in the incredible views this time of year. If you decide to hike this way, your round trip length would be about 17.5 miles. With this distance, this hike would be better suited for experienced hikers.

The reason why this road is closed from December through March is because of the accumulation of ice and snow. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park just doesn’t have the ability to keep up with the financial and environmental costs of removing the ice and snow from the road.

Hike the Appalachian Trail

Another way to hike to Clingmans Dome in the winter is to travel along the Appalachian Trail itself! The observation tower is considered one of the many points along this national trail that travels through 14 states. Another fun fact: the starting point to get to the tower from this trail is the only place along the entire Appalachian Trail that crosses over a road!

You’ll start at mile 72 on the Appalachian Trail right where Newfound Gap meets Clingmans Dome Road. This way to get to the tower is considered strenuous and should only be attempted by skilled and experienced hikers.

Reaching the Tower the Rest of the Year

clingmans dome in the smoky mountainsMaybe you’ll be in town when the main access road to the tower is open (April to November), and you’re wondering what that hiking trail is like. If you park in the parking area, your hike will be about 1 mile round trip. The path to Clingmans Dome is paved, but the steepness of the trail can be difficult for some people. But once you get to the top and look at the expansive mountain views laid out before you from the top of the tower, it’s worth it!

More About Clingmans Dome

There’s still more to learn about this popular destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so here are some quick facts about the tower:

  • It was built in 1959.
  • The tower itself is 45 feet tall.
  • The ramp is 375 feet long.
  • It’s the tallest point along the Appalachian Trail.
  • It’s the highest mountain elevation in Tennessee.

Are you excited about seeing Clingmans Dome and the views in person? Learn more about this tower before you hike so you’re even more prepared!