Come to Clingmans Dome for the views. Here at the highest point in the park (6,643 feet), you can climb an observation tower that takes you up above the treetops. It is a stunning view and a refreshing experience, and afterwards you can say that you were on the top of Ol’ Smoky.
Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smokies , and the third-highest peak in the eastern United States. Once called Smoky Dome, because it is rounded like a dome, it is now called Clingmans after Thomas Lanier Clingman, a North Carolina attorney and politician who was involved in early attempts to measure and catalogue mountain peaks.
The concrete observation tower atop Clingmans Dome dates to the 1960s. Immediately in front of the tower there are two steel-frame towers, a communications tower and a climactic data collection tower. On a clear day, the 360-degree view is truly awesome. Fontana Lake, Mount Mitchell, Knoxville , and Mount LeConte  are just a few of the landmarks visible from the tower.
Unfortunately, visibility from Clingmans Dome is often limited—often by as much as 80 percent—by air pollution. Park officials blame coal-burning power plants in the Southeastern United States for most of the pollution, which can also pose a health risk for people with breathing difficulties.
Another environmental problem evident at Clingmans Dome is the infestation of mature Fraser fir trees by the balsam wooly adelgid. The dry skeletons of these once-majestic evergreens haunt the mountainsides here. Fraser firs were the iconic champions of the unique spruce-fir forest that exists in the high elevations of the Smokies . But beginning in 1963, the adelgid, an aphid-like insect less than one millimeter long, arrived in the Smokies after coming to the United States from Europe, probably on nursery stock.
Without any natural predators, the adelgids thrived on the sap of mature Fraser fir trees. Today, park officials estimate that some 70 percent of mature Fraser fir trees have been killed by the adelgids; the rest are infested. You can identify an infested tree by the white wooly mass covering its bark. Sometimes it causes the tree to look whitewashed.
Park rangers treat a handful of Fraser fir trees with a soap solution to control the adelgids, but it would be too expensive to do this throughout the forest. The park has transplanted some firs to lower elevations in the park, where they can be protected and preserved in the event that scientists discover a way to guard against the microscopic predators.
When planning to visit Clingmans Dome, check the weather first. Remember that it is often much more cold and wet on top of Ol’ Smoky than it is in the lowlands. On cloudy or overcast days, there will be no visibility at all.
Clingmans Dome is located at the end of a seven-mile spur road. It is a half-mile walk along a steep, but paved, footpath from the parking area to the base of the observation tower. The road to Clingmans Dome is closed from December 1 through March 31.