Great Smoky Mountains National Park
On our first full day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park we managed to get a lot of sightseeing in. The first order of business was to visit Clingman's Dome. For those of you unfamiliar with this mountain, like we were, here are a few facts.
Clingman's Dome is the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, at 6,643 feet it is only 41 feet lower than the tallest, nearby Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina, which by the way we just drove past yesterday when finishing The Blue Ridge Parkway. It is therefore the highest mountain in the state of Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses over Clingman's Dome and it marks the highest point on the entire trail that travels between Georgia and Maine.
We got up early, around sunrise, and started getting ready to visit THE DOME. It's about a 45 minute drive from our campsite at Smokemont Campground to the Visitor Center at Clingman's Dome and they don't open until 10:00AM, but we were told to arrive early if we wanted a parking spot near the trailhead. We arrived around 9:00AM and snagged one of the last parking spots in the entire lot. When we were done with the hike a couple hours later the cars were parking on both sides of the roadway for almost a mile back down the mountain from the parking lot.
The hike up to the observation tower from the parking lot is only a half of a mile long and it is entirely paved, but it has an elevation change of 332 feet. With that short of a trail, and that amount of an elevation change, it means the average grade of the hike is at nearly 13%. To put that into perspective, most train locomotives aren't capable of pulling a medium weight train up a 6% grade without slipping backwards and a United States Interstate Highway is considered out of standard if it has a grade greater than 7%. While some local roads in the U.S. do boast of a grade of 12-15%, they are not the norm.
With all that in mind I can safely say, I sure liked the hike back down to the car, better than the hike up to the observation tower. And as if that wasn't bad enough, don't forget the air is a lot thinner at 6,643 feet and I have lived in the state of Florida for the last 55 years where the highest elevation in the entire state is only 345 feet above sea level. But we survived and here are the pictures to prove it!
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