Clingmans Dome – The Great Smoky Mountains October 2021

            Having been to the Smoky Mountains on two previous occasions, I knew about Cade’s Cove and was excited to share it with Frank.  However, I learned this time about Clingmans Dome, which is closer to Cherokee, North Carolina.  Yes, something new and it would be the highest elevation in the Smoky Mountains.  I was game and we decided we would do it when we moved to another campground in Cherokee. We arrived, set up camp, and set out.                        

            We made a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center on the North Carolina side and then set out driving towards Gatlinburg with Clingmans Dome – our destination.  We were lucky enough to see a male and female elk on the way. There were observation points and Frank pulled over to accommodate my photo addiction. I had seen mention of there being a lack of parking spots at times at Clingmans Dome.  As we approached the area, we saw some people parked on the side of the road.  My first thoughts were oh no, we are going to have to hike into the Dome.  However, we kept driving to the parking area and found a space. Yay!  Good for us!

            Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, which is 45 feet tall, has been around since 1959, but I had never heard about it until this trip.  It is on the highest point in the Smokies and along the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet and straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee state line.  Wow!  I read it had a ramp up to it and that it was steep.  Looking at a picture of the dome and the ramp, I quickly thought, I can do that!  I did read that it was not wheelchair accessible due to it being steep.  Looking at the picture, I thought, “Well, the ramp isn’t that long.  I can do that.”

            Obviously, I only took in what I wanted to take in.  At the bottom, there was a sign saying there was a .5-mile trail to the dome.  Okay, a half mile isn’t so bad, and it’s paved.  We’re good.  Those were my thoughts for the first few SECONDS.  Quickly realizing this was much steeper than I anticipated and now knowing it was a half mile of steep incline, I became concerned.  However, I’m a hardheaded, determined person and I was bound and determined to conquer it. Even if I did huff, whine, puff, complain, and come up with various solutions to solve this problem along the way, there was never a thought of giving up.  Yes, we saw others give up and decide to “sit it out” while family members, etc. went on.  Luckily, there are benches every so often for people to sit and rest.  You can’t see the next one as you are climbing and rounding bends as you ascend this “path.”  I would spot a bench and just focus on it.  Every time someone else was sitting there, but that did not deter me. That bench would be my resting place.  Some people stopped and rested on some rocks or tree trunks, but I wasn’t so sure I’d make it back up from such low positions, so the benches were meant for me.

            Frank kept encouraging me with comments like, “Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.” The problem with that was that my nose was clogged up so when I tried that, I didn’t feel I was getting enough air and then my nose started running. His next words were, “If you stopped talking, it would be easier.” Really?  I’m coming up with all kinds of ways to “fix this problem” and you want me to stop?  My ideas were: an incline train, a ski lift, a tram, etc… I shared those ideas with anyone and everyone within my vicinity, especially to the people resting with me on the benches along the way.  Frank’s next words of advice were, “You don’t need to stop at that bench, you can make it.” “Yeah, well, I don’t want to “make it” just now. I want to rest and try to catch my breath.”  He didn’t suggest that one again.  His next words of encouragement were, “Slow and steady, slow and steady.” I reminded him that was why I was stopping at the benches. 

            Then low and behold, we saw the Appalachian Trail and the sign where it crosses the path up to Clingmans Dome.  That lifted my spirits, and I was even able to step down the trail so that Frank could take a picture of me “walking the Appalachian Trail.” You will notice the energy and enthusiasm I am displaying for the picture.  I then insisted we have pictures next to the sign.  He grudgingly agreed to have his picture taken by the sign but refused to pretend he was walking the trail.  Party pooper.  Oh well, I walked the Appalachian Trail, so there! 

            After the short, uplifting stop by the Appalachian Trail, there was more of the steep path to traverse.  Frank kept saying we would have to climb stairs up to the tower, but I knew that wasn’t true because I had seen the ramp.  After about two more bends in the path, we made it and saw the tower.  Thankfully, there was a circle at the bottom with benches around it so we could rest to prepare for the final trek up to the Dome.  While we were sitting there, I jokingly expressed my suggestions to the people gathered there about how that trek could be improved. They were all on board and we started talking and laughing about how much we would pay for such a conveyance and the price kept getting higher and higher as to what we were willing to pay. I must say that I expressed that the engineer who designed that “path of torture” should be shot.  Yes, that is a little violent, but I came up with that on the trek up, so I think that is forgivable given my lack of oxygen.   I will amend it to say he should be held accountable, and something should be put in place to help those of us who are not quite so “athletic” or who don’t hike every single day in the mountains. 😊

            The ramp to the dome was actually quite easy. The part I thought they had “warned” us about was not the worrisome part, it was the “path” / “trail” to it.  The temperature kept falling on the trek up and it had become a little chilly.  As we moved up the ramp, we really felt the wind.  We reached the top – YAY – and the mist, fog, “smoky” part of the mountains obscured everything but the tops of the very closest trees.  A little disappointing, but I had just climbed a half mile straight up (that’s my description and I’m sticking to it), so I was proud for just making it up there!  Yay me! (And Frank).  Frank wanted to hurry up and get down from the Dome and the ramp because he felt it was shaking and not very sturdy.  I really wasn’t concerned about that and took my pictures before agreeing to go down.  It was quite breezy up there.

            Going down was so easy compared to going up.  However, some people with bad knees have expressed that was the worse part for them.  I was probably still on my “high” from conquering the “path / trail / cliff climbing” that it felt easy.  When we reached the bottom, I was able to take some pictures of the view that were breathtaking.  No, I didn’t get any good pictures up top, but the ones at the bottom made up for it. 

            What did I learn?  Read a little more carefully, but honestly, I wanted to go up there and was determined to do it.  You might want to take a jacket because it is much cooler up there than at the parking lot.  Make use of the benches. Wheelchairs are not advised or allowed and there is a reason for that.  I still wish there was an alternative for those who aren’t in such great “hiking shape” so they can access the Dome.  They can still have the path so others can prove their “might” and physical prowess, but some accommodation for the rest would be nice. When I posted my little excerpt on my Facebook page, I shared it on the National Parks Fan Page.  Most people understood my humor (I used emojis) but one lady called me out and said it wasn’t bad and she did it regularly and she was in her 70s.  Kudos to her!  I’m not her!  I’ve had four back surgeries, I have spinal stenosis, and I’ve just started walking / “hiking” in the past few months.  I also don’t live in the mountains and “I’m not a mountain goat!” Altitude does play a role in this! 

            If you are going to the Smoky Mountains, and I recommend you do, be prepared for Clingmans Dome.  It’s okay to just take pictures from the parking lot.  Also, I recommend staying in the Cherokee, NC area rather than the Gatlinburg, TN area.  Cherokee is a little less “touristy” and is a lot less crowded.  My other words of advice if you are wanting to go during the fall for the changing of the leaves: look up when the Tennessee and North Carolina schools have “fall break.” There were a lot of kids in Gatlinburg and that’s when I learned about their fall break being the first or second week of October and we were here the second week of October. I think that was one of the reasons there were so many people, and it was so crowded.  You might want to try the third or fourth week of October.

            Do go to Clingmans Dome and make an attempt if you can. If not, there is not shame in parking lot pictures!

Till next time,

Beth Cervenka

Come Explore with Us!

Beth Cervenka


We are Beth and Frank Cervenka, the Texas RV Couple. We sold our dream home, bought a used Class A motor home and set out to explore the US full time. We hope you'll come explore with us! We appreciate recommendations of places to visit, of course, we also love food, so those recommendations are also welcomed! We are a blended family with five "children" between us, but they are all adults now, so we can confidently leave and explore on our own. Three grandchildren bring joy to our lives. We will miss them. Beth, a retired teacher, taught English and history for 31 years before retiring in 2017. Frank worked in the oil and gas business for 34 years in Quality Assurance. They started their own remodeling company in 2016, but now just focus on selling high quality cabinets for clients in the US. Check out to see the Conestoga line of cabinets. Frank works with clients to design their kitchen or other spaces. We hope you will enjoy our adventures and misadventures and come explore with us. We appreciate your support and suggestions. Thanks, Beth and Frank