Clingmans Dome is probably the most visited high point in the country besides Mt Washington. This is because there's a nice little road going to the top. Hiking the mountain is a different story! From Newfound Gap, it is a 16 mile round trip.
The grand view of LeConte from the summit tower of Clingmans Dome
Day: 17
Miles: 2,650?

Continuing my first experience of the Smoky Mountains as an all growed up adult, I turned my sights to Clingmans Dome. At 6,643', it is the highest mountain in Tennessee and the Appalachian Trail. The mountain is famous to thru hikers and casual day trippers alike. A road leads to the top but I hate to do that type of thing. Looking for a hiking trail I discovered that there are actually a multitude of very long trails to the summit. I suppose one could really make a trip out of it and start at some high mountain in Maine but I hadn't the time today. Newfound Gap is on the AT and offers a nice 16 mile round trip hike to the summit. This would have to do today!

Here's a map-

Despite its length, the hiking runs quite smoothly. Newfound gap is at about 5,000 feet and there are several little and large bumps along the ascent of the highpoint. The biggest "bump" is Mt Collins. This 6,188' mountain makes the Southern Sixers List which I've been enjoying. With this in mind, the trail is a bit of a rollercoaster ride but its enjoyable! I had the privilege of a glorious sunrise on Newfound Gap and dappled sunlight on the AT. Whatever challenges there where on the trail were quickly ignored with all the sights- 
A lovely sunrise on Newfound Gap
I just couldn't get over how lovely this place was.

The Appalachian Trail
I have to be honest in saying that the trail doesn't offer an abundance of vistas along your way to the summit. The real treat is hiking through spruce and beech forests which feel like old growth. I'm unsure of the logging history here but today it seems extremely well preserved. I encountered several fences to keep out the wild hogs which are an exotic species in this area. By some combination of AT hikers and the national park service, the area feels untouched save for the trail itself. Sometimes I think that I enjoy hiking through a dense forest more than a panoramic view.

I'm a middle-of-the-pack hiker when it comes to speed and I felt like I effortlessly reached the summit in 3 hours exactly. At times I was just flying along the AT. To make things even more enjoyable, I had the trail to myself! Sure I saw two or three wanderers at each of the trailheads but there were none between Clingmans and Newfound Gap! I love it when that happens.
View from the summit tower
The summit was crowded and this was expected. I don't really blame people for wanting to drive to the summit- there's a great summit tower which offers unobstructed views of nearly every tall summit in the Smoky Mountains. Without the tower there would be simply a view of spruce (not a bad view either!). What the great Smokys lack that the Northeast has are the high alpine tundras which are completely devoid of any life greater than a few centimeters high. The tallest summits of North Carolina and Tennessee are too far south for this type of environment. So I was glad for a little human intervention so I could get my view! My more wilderness-inclined friends are probably rolling their eyes.

Down from the crowded summit, I was back in much-loved solitude. I saw one hiker who was bushwhacking some waterfalls from the ridgeline. Apparently the Southern States have hardcore bushwhack types too! We swapped stories of tangling through spruce and underbrush and being rewarded with pieces of wilderness that hardly ever see humans. Certainly I'll try my and at southern bushwhacking someday!
"The flying saucer"
It was a very appropriate visit to a state high point. I got my hard hiking, wilderness and views. Its nice to have a feeling of accomplishment with hiking a high point instead of just a long drive! Tomorrow I would have the same benefit when I hike the Black Mountain Traverse of Mt Mitchell in North Carolina!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!