Visiting Clingman’s Dome a Kid-Friendly Hike in the Smoky Mountains

Clingman's Dome

If you’re looking for kid-friendly hike ideas in the Smoky Mountains, you’ve come to the right place. One thing about traveling so often with a family is that most everything I try to do has to be kid-friendly.

Finding kid-friendly hikes are great for families with children of varying ages. In the case of Clingman’s Dome, the trail is paved so it’s easier to keep everyone relatively close by. 

This detail makes them ideal for strollers of course, though I wouldn’t totally recommend a heavy stroller for Clingman’s Dome.  We did use a lightweight travel stroller. It did prove moderately challenging, but if you’ve got a strong teen to help you out, as I did, you should be fine.  

Some of the most incredible views can found atop Clingmans Dome. A short drive from both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Clingman’s Dome makes for a great day trip when visiting the Smoky Mountains. With an elevation of 6644 ft, it is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains as well as the highest point in Tennessee.

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Gatlinburg with kids, a visit to Clingman’s Dome should definitely be at the top of your list.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome is a Kid-Friendly Hike in the Smoky Mountains

Mainly because it has a paved trail, Clingman’s Dome is a kid-friendly hike in the Smoky Mountains. But, be warned, just because it’s paved doesn’t mean its easy. It’s a very steep incline and while there are stops along the way, it is important to be mindful of that.

There are benches to rest along the way, so don’t let that discourage you. We pushed a jogging stroller up the trail. This was rough but manageable and my youngest 4-years old at the time did want to get out for a bit and try ‘hiking’ himself.

That said, it is one of the easy hiking trails in Tennessee with kids. What’s great about Clingman’s Dome too is that it is totally free to get in. So if you’re looking for free things to do with kids in the Smoky Mountains, this is a great option. 

Clingman’s Dome at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The ride to the beginning of the path that leads to the observation area at Clingmans Dome is a beautiful country road with intermittent pull-off areas, trails, and stops along the way.

Clingman's Dome

To get to the observation tower, you’ll need to navigate to Newfound Gap Road; it’s a 7-mile drive along a windy, steep cliff that snakes through a few tunnels and offers stunning views of the Smoky Mountains.

The hike itself is just a half-mile and there is an ample parking lot and restrooms. The Clingman’s Dome Visitor Center is located at 7078 Clingman’s Dome Road in Cherokee, N.C. The visitor center features exhibits detailing the history of the area. It also offers an in-depth look at the spruce-fir forest ecosystem.

Clingman’s Dome Access Road will also lead you to other trails, including Andrew’s Bald, another kid-friendly hike. When you’re in the Smoky Mountains, be sure to look into the Junior Ranger Program. It’s a great way to keep kids engaged and learning while out in nature. 

How Did Clingman’s Dome Get its Name

Normally, mountains and peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were named after the scientists who discovered them. One day soon we’ll delve into the names and history of the indigenous people who called this area home years before. For now, we’ll go with the history written in the textbooks.

Thomas Lanier Clingman was a US Senator and Confederate General from North Carolina. For years he insisted that a particular peak was the tallest in North Carolina. In 1858, geographer named Arnold Guyot measured it and named Clingman’s Dome in his honor. 

Things to do at Clingman’s Dome

I’ve heard great things about the Clingman’s Dome Jeep Tour. This is a self-guided jeep rental tour that allows you to climb to the top of Clingman’s Dome. My husband and I did a similar tour when we were in Puerto Vallarta. We climbed to the top of the Sierra Madre mountains in a TOMCAR.

While it was fun at the time, it was a bit scary for me, so I don’t imagine this is something we’ll likely be doing again. But, I’m certain a more adventurous person would love it! It’s definitely not something I would consider a kid-friendly activity because, in order for me to help my kids enjoy themselves, I’d have to be relaxed and enjoying myself too.

Clingman's Dome

Kid-Friendly Hike Spruce Fir Nature Trail Smoky Mountains

What I will recommend though is the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail as a kid-friendly hike in the Smoky Mountains. This half-mile loop walking trail is great for families of small children. It smells like Christmas as you walk through and take in all of the sights, sounds of the Smokies. 

When is Clingman’s Dome Open 

When I learned that Clingman’s Dome is only open at certain times of the year,  I made sure to add a trip to our itinerary on our last trip but unfortunately, we were unable to make it work.

Clingman’s Dome is closed during inclement weather in the winter. It also closes for the season on the last day of November because the weather and driving up the access road can be treacherous.

It wasn’t raining or snowing when we set out, but it was overcast and a little chilly. As we packed up our hiking bags, I made sure to include some hand warmers along with our snacks and water bottles. The weather report was clear with no sign of precipitation in the site, so I was sure we were good to go.

As we got to the final few miles on our ascent up the access road to Clingman’s Dome though, the overcast weather posed a huge problem. Visibility was significantly difficult as we were essentially trying to drive through clouds on the side of a steep cliff on a windy road.

We made the executive decision to turn around at a pull-off point and make our way back down the road. Unfortunately, it was too treacherous to attempt, and while I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to climb to the top of the dome that day

Clingman’s Dome Hours of Operation

Clingman’s Dome is a must-visit kid-friendly spot to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re visiting any time before April however you’re out of luck.

Because of icy roads and snow, Clingman’s Dome closes on the last day of November through the end of March. In April expect the trail to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

If you’re visiting Clingmans Dome in the Spring and Summer months, it is open from June through August a bit earlier. You can arrive at the trail at 9:30 a.m. and it stays open until 6:30 p.m. In September and October, Clingman’s Dome is open at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. Finally, in November, the trail stays open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. through the last day of the month. 


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