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Is Clingmans Dome Open At Night?

The highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome. The peak of this popular mountain sits at 6,643 feet, providing daytime visitors with awesome views. But what about nighttime visitors?

So, is Clingmans Dome open at night? Yes, Clingmans Dome is open at night. 

If you’re planning a nighttime visit to Clingmans Dome, there are several night-friendly activities you can take part in that will make for a truly unique experience. 

To learn the ins and outs of visiting Clingmans Dome at night, read on. 

What to do on Clingmans Dome at Night

Clingmans Dome is a particularly popular destination. This is largely in part to its breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains, a range affectionately known as the Smokies. The peak is also perched between the Tennessee and North Carolina, border so you can tick off having visited both states at once! 

During the day, Clingmans Dome is filled with hikers and day-trippers jostling for space, which makes visiting night the perfect way to avoid the crowd and enjoy some exciting activities. 

Getting there

At night, it’s best to drive to the Clingmans Dome parking lot to get to the mountain’s peak. While there are hiking trails that lead to the peak ‒ including the famous Appalachian Trail ‒ they can be steep and uneven, so it’s best to avoid them when it’s dark out. 

Parking in the Clingmans Dome parking lot at night is completely free. Once you park your car, take a few minutes to explore the area and find your bearings. The parking lot is also at a high elevation, so you may find that the air is cooler and thinner than you’re used to. Make sure to layer up and give yourself some time to acclimatize to the air. 

Stargazing

Once you’re ready, you can set off for the Clingmans Dome observation tower, which is a half a mile climb from the parking lot. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the tower is known as the ‘flying saucer’ to locals. Set against a blanket of stars every night, it makes for a truly remarkable sight. 

The path to the tower is paved, but it’s fairly steep ‒ you’ll ascend 332 feet from the parking lot to the tower. Go at an easy pace and stop to rest on the wooden benches along the path. 

On full moon nights, the observatory tower offers beautiful and sometimes eerie views of the surrounding forest and valleys. On nights when the moon is a sliver, it’s a terrific place to stargaze. And when the sky is free of clouds, you can even see the faint lights coming from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

If you’re not in the mood for a hike up to the observatory tower, you can also stargaze from the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Bring a telescope or simply look up to the sky and you’ll see the center of the Milky Way; a collection of thousands of stars at the heart of our galaxy. You can also use a star finding app like SkySafari to look for the names of constellations or stars ‒ it’s truly an awe-inspiring experience. 

Wildlife watching

Another great activity nighttime activity on Clingmans Dome is wildlife watching. 

The Great Smoky Mountains are teeming with all kinds of wildlife:

  • Turkeys 
  • White-tailed deer
  • Bears 
  • Coyotes 
  • Bobcats

Most of these are nocturnal animals ‒ if you are quiet and still, you may see or hear them eating, hunting or simply marking their territory. 

If you’re scared about the bears and coyotes, don’t worry ‒ they are non-confrontational animals, and will leave you alone if you do the same for them. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, take a pair of night vision binoculars with you. And if you bring a camera along with the binoculars, remember to switch off the flash as you’re taking photos. 

Go hiking

Aside from the hike to the observatory, experienced hikers may also try tackling some of the harder trails around Clingmans Dome. The parking lot is a trailhead for several hiking trails, including the Forney Ridge Trail and the Appalachian Trail. 

If you’re hiking at night, the Appalachian Trail may be too demanding;. Instead, consider the Andrews Bald hike, which is a 3.5 mile round trip. A few years ago, the trail was renovated ‒ it now has flat stones covering the muddy sections, as well as boardwalks and staircases along particularly wet or steep portions. Because of these additions, it’s a manageable night hike ‒ although you should definitely bring a head-torch and hiking poles. 

How about camping

One of the most asked about nighttime activities on Clingmans Dome is camping. 

Unfortunately, there are no camping facilities on Clingmans Dome. The Smoky Mountains Park Service also prohibits visitors from camping in places which aren’t designated campsites, so you can’t randomly set up on the side of a trail. 

This article is owned by Recapture Nature and was first published on September 18, 2019

The closest campsite is the Backcountry Campsite #68 on the Forney Ridge Trail, but it’s a good hike from Clingmans Dome. If you do plan to stay at a campsite in the area, you may also have to get a Backcountry Permit. 

Nighttime Restrictions on Clingmans Dome 

Both the observation tower and the parking lot are accessible 24/7. However, the visitors center ‒ which has park information, gifts, and snacks for purchase ‒ is only open between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. 

There are portable toilets that are open at all times in the parking lot. It’s important to note that these are vault toilets and don’t flush ‒ if you need nicer facilities, you’ll have to go elsewhere. 

Here are some other restrictions to keep in mind when visiting Clingmans Dome at night:

  • Pets ‒ including dogs ‒ are not allowed in the Clingmans Dome area. 
  • Bicycles are not allowed on the path to the observation tower or on the trails that start on Clingmans Dome. You’ll need to leave your bicycle at the parking lot.
  • Because the path to the observation tower is steep, it can be difficult for wheelchairs to access. 
  • Temperatures can drop fairly low at night, so bring along some warm clothing. 
  • Visitors are not allowed to start fires anywhere in the Clingmans Dome area. 
  • There are no food or cooking facilities available after 6:00 pm, so bring pre-prepared food and snacks. Be careful that you don’t leave food out in the open ‒ it may attract bears and other animals. 

One more thing ‒ before driving up to Clingmans Dome, make sure to check that the road is accessible. The road is typically closed from December 1st through to March 30th, but it may be closed at other times of the year if there is extreme weather. 

Best Time to Visit Clingmans Dome

If you’re planning a nighttime visit to Clingmans Dome, it’s best to go during June, July and August. These months have the lowest chance of snow. giving you the best chance of good weather during your visit. 

For activities like night hiking, stargazing and photography, August is the best time to visit. The chances of rain are lower, making a clear sky more likely. 

From late September to March, there are frequent snow falls which make it harder to access Clingmans Dome. If the road is closed, the only way to reach the peak is by hiking the snow-covered trails or cross-country skiing over the road ‒ both of which are activities you shouldn’t attempt at night.

If you would like to visit Clingmans Dome at night during the winter, I recommend hiking along the Clingmans Dome road. This will allow for steadier footing. Also make sure you’re equipped with warm jackets, trekking poles and ski goggles. And when hiking at night, it’s best to hike with others so you have help in case of an emergency.

Conclusion

Whether you visit it in the summer or winter, a nighttime trip to Clingmans Dome is an unparalleled experience. 

This article is owned by Recapture Nature and was first published on September 18, 2019

On clear nights, you’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the night sky and the chance to spot nocturnal wildlife. Some fun activities include trekking from Clingmans Dome to Andrews Bald, stargazing from the peak, or simply hanging out in the parking area and spending a quiet night under the stars.