Well, of course you can drive directly to Clingmans Dome. But there are also a few things you might want to see along the way if you want to make time for it!
Driving to Clingmans Dome and back to Gatlinburg means that you will be driving the famous Newfound Gap Road aka US-441 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Below is a list of stops you can make along the way on your drive from Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome Road. This includes some quick stops at scenic overlooks and longer stops to do a hike.
Or, if you’re getting a late start to Clingmans Dome, then you can make some stops on the way back to Gatlinburg depending on how much time you have left in the day.
What’s there to do at Clingmans Dome?
Well, Clingmans Dome is really all about taking in the views!
There is a Clingmans Dome Trail, and this will take you to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the observation tower so that you can get grand views of the Smoky Mountains all around you. You can even see Gatlinburg off in the distance!
But, you actually don’t even need to hike the trail to get grand views of the Smoky Mountains.
You can get amazing views from the end of Clingmans Dome Road at the Clingmans Dome parking lot, even before you get started on the trail.
These views are from slightly lower elevation but are still magnificent… if there’s good weather at Clingmans Dome!
Aside from this, you can also hike to Andrews Bald from the end of Clingmans Dome Road.
How long will it take to drive to Clingmans Dome?
If you were to drive direct from downtown Gatlinburg to the end of Clingmans Dome Road where the trail to the observation tower starts, then it will likely take around 1 hour with traffic… and even longer if you make stops! With no traffic, you may be able to drive there in 45 minutes.
For something easy to remember, you can make the “Clingmans Dome Visitor Center” your destination for google maps. The final road to get to the Clingmans Dome parking lot is a seasonal road (Clingmans Dome Road). So if you’re looking at driving directions on google maps in the winter and it’s telling you there are no driving directions to get there, that could be why.
Side note! See the more of the Smoky Mountains:
- Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains
- Best hikes with VIEWS in the Smoky Mountains
- Best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains
- Driving the scenic route from Gatlinburg to Clingman's Dome
- Driving the slow scenic route from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove
- The big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains
What’s on the way when you’re driving from Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome Road?!
Or on the way back!
This will go in the order you can make the stops if you are driving from Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome. The first few things on this list, starting with before you reach Newfound Gap Road, are things that are close to Gatlinburg. So if there’s a lot you want to do, you might want to save some of these for another day, too!
As you start driving from Gatlinburg town and heading towards Newfound Gap Road, you will pass the turnoff for the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
This is a scenic road where you can simply drive the loop road to make it a quicker drive, or you could easily spend half a day or more in the area too.
Roaring Fork is a one way road that has waterfalls, historic cabins, and a historic mill to explore.
It would be reasonable to make it a day of something like Clingmans Dome in the morning and the Roaring Fork loop road in the afternoon.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: See more to decide if you want to do this drive on the same day as your Newfound Gap Road drive
2. Cataract Falls
This can be a relatively quick stop of around 15-20 minutes. It’s located near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There is a nature trail that starts from behind the visitor center. If you want to make it a quicker stop, then you can park closer. There’s a small little parking area right near the Cove Mountain trailhead.
3. Sugarlands Visitor Center
You’ll be driving right past the visitor center. If you want to pick up some self-guided tour books (remember bring cash) then this would be a convenient stop.
And when you are driving near the Sugarlands Visitor Center, you will follow the sign to Clingmans Dome to continue on US-441 and to end up on Newfound Gap Road.
The first scenic overlook you’ll come across on Newfound Gap Road when driving from Gatlinburg will be the Carlos Campbell overlook. You’ll start to see it off in the distance a little as you’re driving, and then you’ll come to the small parking area.
5. Chimneys picnic area
Pack along a picnic lunch for your day trip from Gatlinburg and you can spend an hour or 2 resting (and eating!) at the Chimneys Picnic area.
Aside from having a ton of picnic tables around, including tables that overlook the creek, this is a good spot to get up close and personal with the creek here and climb over the big rocks (carefully!) for a nice photo opp too!
6. Chimney Tops overlook
This can be another quick roadside stop that comes mountain views. You’ll see the parking area as you are driving along.
7. Chimney Tops overlook trail
If you’re looking for a day hike on your way back from Clingmans Dome, a hike to another Chimney Tops overlook is one of your choices!
You’ll likely want to allow around 2 hours to complete this hike. Be prepared to hike UP! Especially towards the end, you’ll be climbing stairs and going up what will feel like a massive uphill. A good reason to pack hiking poles for your Smoky Mountains trip!
You can bring a light picnic lunch on this hike and enjoy the views at the top as you rest. There’s a small area you can sit on the ground at the overlook area.
Because of a fire a few years ago, you can’t hike as far as you used to be able to. And so, you’ll be hiking to just an overlook and not all the way to the actual “chimney.”
8. Alum Cave Trail
This is another hike you can do on your way back to Gatlinburg after your trip to Clingmans Dome.
You have a few options on how to do this, depending on your preference for what you want to see and how long you want to hike for.
👆 Read about hiking to Arch Rock.
👆 Read about hiking to Alum Cave bluffs.
👆 Hiking to Mt LeConte summit.
Hiking poles will also be helpful on this hiking trail no matter what your final destination is. You are hiking up the mountain.
9. Morton overlook
This is another roadside stop that you’ll come across as you’re driving. More mountain views in the Smoky Mountains. You can read about Mr. Morton while you’re here.
10. Newfound gap overlook
The most popular spot that’s located right along Newfound Gap Road! You will come across this as you’re driving. There’s a pretty big parking lot here, but it can still get pretty full. Be sure to have a look on both sides for different views of the Smoky Mountains!
Notably, this is also where you can find a sign of the Tennessee – North Carolina border.
The other notable thing about the Newfound Gap parking lot is that this is one spot where you can find access to the Appalachian Trail.
So if you want to be able to say that you’ve hiking a small part of the nearly 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, well you can do that at Newfound Gap!
And if you want to keep hiking, you can make it a day hike to Charlie’s Bunion. You’ll likely want to give yourself 4-5 hours for this 8 mile round trip hike.
And then you’ll keep driving just a little further past the Newfound Gap parking lot…
And you’ll see the sign to make the turn onto Clingmans Dome Road! It will be a final 7 mile drive UP the mountain.
And then you’ve made it to the Clingmans Dome parking lot!!
Be sure to see more about hiking to the Clingmans Dome observation tower!
And that’s a bit of how you can spend your time along Newfound Gap Road!
Are you heading to Cades Cove too?! Also see what’s on the drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove!
HAPPY DRIVING NEWFOUND GAP ROAD!
Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky MountainsYou will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).
I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.
They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.
On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.
If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.
Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!