Backpack the Clingmans Dome Loop

Rate this Adventure North Carolina Clingmans Dome Trailhead

Added by Fletcher Chapin

A very difficult but rewarding hike on the Appalachian Trail's and Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest point. This is typically a 2-Day backpacking trip. 

The first day of the hike is either 12.3 miles or 10.5 miles (depending on the campsite) almost all downhill, and the second half of the loop is 13.3 miles or 11.5 miles, again depending on the campsite, almost exclusively uphill. Just as a reference the first day took us about 6 and a half hours including 45 minutes of breaks and the second day took about 7 and a half hours with 2 hours of breaks, mostly to stretch cramped muscles as it was an extremely physically challenging day of hiking. 

Day 1: Starting at Clingmans Dome parking lot, head toward the paved path and take the left fork away from the path to the tower, and towards the Appalachian Trail. After 1/2 a mile, continue left onto the AT. From now on the trail is mostly downhill; 1.7 miles later turn right onto Goshen Prong Trail (there will be a sign saying 7.6 miles to Little River Trail). In 3.3 miles continue towards Little River Trail, and then 4.3 miles after that you'll cross a bridge with a nice view of two streams converging. This could be a nice place to stop and eat (if you haven't already). Just after the bridge is another crossroads. Take a sharp right towards Campsite 24 onto Little River Trail. After 0.7 miles you'll reach campsite 24. You could stop here and cut 3.6 miles off the loop, but when we went the trail was closed due to bear activity, and Campsite 30 which is 1.8 miles farther down Little River Trail is beautifully situated on the river as it's name might suggest. Either stop at Campsite 24 or continue to Campsite 30 and set up your tent for the night. Don't forget to use the bear cables to hang your food, toothpaste, etc. before going to bed.

Day 2: We got up pretty early for this hike as it's a long day. If you're at Campsite 30 hike 1.8 miles back to the intersection with Rough Creek Trail, which has a sign to Sugarland Mountain and turn right. Otherwise the intersection for Rough Creek Trail is right at Campsite 24. After about a mile up Rough Creek Trail we ran into a particularly bad section covered in thorny blackberry bushes accompanied by the trail eroding underneath. Luckily this only lasted for about half a mile and then it clears up again. 2.8 miles after you turned onto Rough Creek Trail you'll reach the Sugarland Mountain Trail. Take a right towards the AT. This is a pretty enjoyable part of the hike on top of a ridge where you can see mountains on both sides when the trees clear, and it would be a nice spot to stop and rest/eat after the thorny section. After 4.5 miles on the Sugarland Mtn. Trail you'll reach Mt. Collins Shelter*, which has a water source (it still says to boil before drinking), and the AT is just 0.3 miles past that. When you reach the AT turn right towards Clingmans Dome to start the last stretch of your trek. First you summit Mt. Collins and start going back downhill, but don't be fooled, the final climb up Clingmans Dome is still ahead. You'll reach the observatory tower 3.4 miles after turning onto the AT. Definitely climb to the top to enjoy the view; you earned it! Finally, walk an easy 0.5 miles downhill on the paved path to the parking lot and back to your car.

If the second day seems too strenuous, you could pack for a 3 day hike and stay at Mt. Collins Shelter for a second night, then have an easy final day to get back to Clingmans Dome.

Pack List

  • Backcountry Camping Permit 
  • Trail Map 
  • Backpack (obviously)
  • Hiking boots
  • Change of clothes
  • Water
  • Food (2 days worth)
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Rain jacket
  • Camera
  • Bug spray
  • Bag to hang food (bear cables already at campsite)
  • Any other items you think are necessary for overnight camping

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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:



Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



25.6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

4000 Feet



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