Winter Hike to Clingman’s Dome via Newfound Gap

Newfound Gap Parking Lot

Experience Clingman’s Dome without the crowds by hiking in the winter months. With Clingman’s Dome Road closed, the highest point in the Smokies becomes a much less visited backcountry destination.

During the winter months, from December 1 through March 31, the 7-mile Clingman’s Dome Road that branches off Highway 441 at Newfound Gap, stays closed. This means the usual drive to the parking area located just a half mile below the tower is inaccessible, and the journey now requires a 15-mile round-trip hike on the AT, starting at Newfound Gap.

The AT crosses the road at Newfound Gap (5,046 ft), straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Jump on the AT at the Newfound Gap parking area and head south. From here, the trail meanders through evergreens, ascending and descending along the ridge as you steadily gain elevation until you reach Clingman’s Dome Tower (6,643 ft). While this stretch of trail runs nearly parallel to Clingman’s Dome Road, you only come close enough to see the road in a few places, and with the road closed, this doesn’t take away too much from the backcountry experience. In weather typical for higher elevations in the Smokies, anticipate clouds and be prepared for rain or snow. In fact, according to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the cool and wet conditions around Clingman’s Dome make it a coniferous rainforest. Temperatures at Clingman’s Dome may be 10-20 degrees colder than the surrounding lowlands.

Be prepared for snow and icy conditions on the trail, and bring traction devices like microspikes if needed. I’d recommend checking the daily blog posts from Mt. Leconte, which is nearby and will give you a good indication of trail conditions: http://www.highonleconte.com/daily-posts.    

Hope for summit views from the tower—which is probably the best vantage point in the national park. But even if you don’t get them, it’s truly a unique experience to have Clingman’s Dome all to yourself.

If you want to break up the hike and make it an overnight trip, the Mount Collins backcountry shelter is a good option. You can book an overnight permit at: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/

Pack List

  • Rain jacket
  • Microspikes
  • Multiple layers
  • Hat and gloves
  • Headlamp
  • Camera and tripod
  • Snacks
  • Water (water source available near Mount Collins shelter, needs to be filtered)
Show More
RT Distance 15 Miles
Elevation Gain 1600 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Winter
Trail Type Loop
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Clingmans View

Great view and great ranger station for trails info


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Nearby Adventures

More Nearby Adventures

Catch a Sunrise at Newfound Gap

192 Saves

Hike to the Jump-Off

277 Saves

Hike Charlies Bunion

661 Saves