We highly recommend visiting Clingmans Dome when in the Great Smoky Mountains or Cherokee NC area. The dome offers 360 degree views from the highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet. As with any kind of hiking, we suggest that you prepare and check the weather forecast before making the 27 mile drive from Cherokee, NC. When there is a high chance of thunderstorms we suggest you pass on making the trip to the summit. Also, the summit has been known to be covered in a thick blanket of fog. This occurrance actually happens often. One way to avoid an uneccessary 7 mile drive up Clingmans Dome Road; pay attention to what you see along Hwy-441 North. At approx. 17 or 18 miles into the park you'll be riding along a ridge once you have leveled off some. This is where paying attention pays off. Look to the West and find your 11 o'clock. The obvious highest peak that's in front and to your slight Left is Clingmans Dome. On a clear day you can see the concrete tower atop the summit from U.S. 441. If it's cloudy/foggy at the top, you will be able to tell. You won't be able to see the tower nor the top 10% of the mountain. When conditions are like this, they tend to stay that way for long periods of time. If you look up and see this while driving North on Hwy-441 we would suggest you take in views from the nearby Newfound Gap instead. Although it's 597 feet lower than Clingmans Dome, it still offers roadside views that are hard to beat considering the ease of access. There are also very nice views into Tennessee just North of Newfound Gap, on the left-hand side of the road. We suggest planning on a Fall day to make the journey to the top, that is if you don't mind crowds. The easy access of Clingmans Dome and the paved path make it seem like it's a breeze to make the journey to the top of the Smokies. The trail to the dome is short at just 0.5 mile, but this isn't a "cupcake" of a trail. If you are not used to exercise or have on improper shoes/clothing, this hike won't be as easy as you think. You'll be climbing for the entire distance and some parts are fairly inclined. However, the trip to the top is worth it! What I always like to do is to encourage the folks you pass when you're heading down and they are heading up. The misery you see on some of their faces ensures the need to pick their spirits up!
We would suggest going in the fall months, somewhere around mid-October. Our fall days are crystal clear with bright blue skies to take in the 360 degree views from the summit. Really, any time of year is a great time for some awesome views, but the air seems clearer in the fall.
The 7-mile Cllingmans Dome Road is closed in the Winter but you can make the 7.5 mile hike to the tower from the closed gate at Hwy-441 junction if you're up for a challenge, especially in the snow. Actually, this road is used by cross country skiers in the winter months. Having said that, you'll still need to make sure that U.S. Hwy-441 will be open and free of any road closures/conditions from either side of the park.
Whenever the time of year you decide to visit, be sure to hike the moderate 0.5 mile paved path to the top. You might think the views from the parking lot are good but just wait until you reach the top.
From Cherokee, NC take U.S. Hwy-441 North into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue for 20 miles on this curvy two-lane highway to Clingmans Dome Road on your Left. Take this road for a steady 7 mile climb to the parking lot for Clingmans Dome. Pick up the paved trailhead at the back of the parking area.