At 6,643 feet, they’re at the Clingman’s Dome observation deck getting a great overview in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Clingmans Dome is not only the highest peak in GSMNP, but also the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) in NC is higher. The tower is located on the state line ridge of North Carolina and Tennessee; the observation tower stands equally in both states.It’s located along the state-line ridge, half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. To reach the peak, we drove the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap Road (US 441), which runs through the [park. After parking, we walked a steep 0.5-mile paved trail that lead to this 54-foot observation tower. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144 mile journey. From the tower, the average viewing distance is about 22 miles.On a clear pollution free day, views can amplify as far as 100 miles into 7 states.
Where did the mountain get its name, I was curious and learned it was named after Thomas Lanier Clingman, Civil War general and U.S. senator from NC. He was appointed senator (D) in 1858 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Asa Biggs. During the civil war, Clingman was one of 10 senators who refused to resign and was expelled in absentia. During the Civil War, he was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He explored and measured mountain peaks, and through his survey work, he spread information that NC was a site to find diamonds, rubies, platinum, corundum, and various other rare minerals.
Clingmans Dome is open year-round, but the road leading to it is closed from December to April 1, and whenever weather conditions require. Hiking and cross country skiing is allowed on the road during the winter.
The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome's summit make it a coniferous rainforest. But, pests, disease, and environmental degradation threaten the fragile spruce-fir forest. Dead trunks litter the area, and dying trees struggle to survive another year. Berries thrive in the open areas; a young forest will replace the dying trees.
What's killing the trees at Clingmans Dome?
The balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae) an insect pest that infests and kills stands of Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) in the spruce-fir zone. This fir occurs naturally only in the southern Appalachians and used to be the dominant tree at the highest elevations. Because the adelgid was introduced on trees imported from Europe, the fir has little natural defense against it.
The adelgid blocks the path of nutrients through the tree by injecting it with toxins. The trees starve to death; thousands of dead snags are all that’s left on the highest mountain peaks.
A “cousin” of this insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, is killing hemlock trees throughout GSMNP.