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Cycling Clingmans Dome, North Carolina
This climb is in Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited of all 62 US national parks, with a staggering 12,000,000+ visitors per year. The ride and park are within the Great Smoky Mountains, a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.
This is by far the least popular route to Clingmans Dome. However, it is also has the least traffic and is very scenic, particularly during fall colors. Note however, that although there is about half the traffic on this side than there is from Gatlinburg, there is still moderate to moderately heavy traffic on this route, particularly during the fall colors time frame of late September to early October.
The climb begins just north of Cherokee, North Carolina (population 2,138). Of note, the spectacular 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway begins just north of Cherokee and just south of the start of the southern Clingmans Dome route featured on this page.
The climb begins at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (park there for this ride, if there is space -- get there early) one of three Great Smoky Mountain National Park visitor centers (Sugarlands VC is the start of Clingmans Dome north and Clingmans Dome VC is at the finish of both Clingmans Dome climbs).
The first seven miles of the climb are very mile at a 2% average grade. Although this segment has nothing to challenge the cyclist, it has gorgeous scenery to keep our attention with the Oconaluftee River to our right.
We are on Highway 441 for the first 15.5 miles (the second half of that segment averages 5% and includes the steepest mile of the entire climb at 7%). Overall, the climb is moderately challenging.
The final seven miles are on Clingmans Dome Road at 3.5% average grade, with one mile descent sandwiched in the middle of the segment. We ride within spitting distance of the North Carolina/Tennessee border and Appalachian Trail while on this segment, but never do enter Tennessee. The Clingmans Dome Visitor Center and the observation tower are both in North Carolina.
Clingmans Dome Road
FINISH AND THE OBSERVATION TOWER
End of the cycling road.
At 6,643’, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi (National Park Website).
Note that riding your bike on the footpath to the observation tower is prohibited.
Footpath leading to Clingmans Dome observation tower
Photo: Roots Rated
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, constructed in 1959, is a 45-foot tower connected to a 375-foot sweeping ramp which visitors ascend to reach the tower’s observation deck. Atop the deck, visitors are rewarded with 360-degree panoramic views from the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains. The tower itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a major example of the National Park Service Modern architecture period. The tower also represents the NPS’ Mission 66 program (1955-1966), which resulted in “a significant change in National Park Service planning, management, and architecture” and oversaw the construction of hundreds of buildings and structures, including nine towers. Clingmans Dome Observation Tower served as a model for two later Mission 66 towers: Look Rock Tower (also in Great Smoky Mountains NP), and Shark Valley Tower (Everglades NP, Florida) (Clingmans Dome Observation Tower).
I walked my bike up and down the path without any objection . . .
more curiosity than anything from viewpoint hikers.
We are permitted to ride to the parking lot at the end of Clingmans Dome Road, but not the 0.5 miles from the Clingmans Dome observation tower. There is a bike stand to lock the bike at if you bring a cable and lock with you. Otherwise, you will probably be ok walking your bike round trip from the parking lot to the observation tower.
The National Park Clingmans Dome page advises:
Pets and bicycles are not permitted on the paved trail to the observation tower, or on any other trails in the area. A bike rack is located near the beginning of the paved trail to park bikes while walking to the top. You will need to bring a lock with you to secure your bike (More).
View from Clingmans Dome at sunset.
Sunrise from Clingman’s Dome.
That’s a wrap!