East Coast US, Travels, US National Parks

On Top Of: Tennessee & North Carolina

During the course of our two days in the Smoky Mountains – in addition to all the hikes I talked about in last week’s post – I managed to check two more state high points off my list. Admittedly, not in the “proper” way. After all, to be a high pointer don’t you have to actually hike to the top of each peak?

Okay, so some online research reveals that there isn’t actually a rule for how a person reaches the summits. Apparently it’s left to individual discretion. Personally, I feel like I’m cheating somehow by driving most of the way to the top of these two. But we didn’t have the time to hike them, so this time around driving will have to suffice.

The Tennessee high point – Clingmans Dome – is actually located right on the North Carolina border. With a summit elevation of 6643 feet (2025 m), this peak is the second tallest state high point east of the Mississippi, behind only North Carolina. Clingmans Dome is located within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park; a 7-mile (11.3 km) road splits off from the main highway at Newfound Gap, leading to a parking area about 0.5 mile (0.8 km) and 300 vertical feet (100 meters) below the summit. From the parking area, a paved trail climbs to the top, which is marked by a very uniquely shaped observation tower.

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Obviously I had to do a handstand on top of the peak. But the best part of this photo – if we zoom in on the upper left – is the reaction of the guy in the background. Thank you, random dude, for this unintentionally hilarious photobomb!

The next day, as we travelled a few miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we took a quick detour into Mount Mitchell State Park where I captured my seventh state high point. But Mount Mitchell is more than just the highest point in North Carolina. It’s also the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains and – in fact – in the entire eastern US! You’d have to travel all the way to South Dakota or Texas to find another peak higher than Mitchell.

As with Clingmans Dome, a road leads most of the way up the mountain, stopping at a parking area very close to the top.

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Best lunch spot ever!

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Obviously I would have loved to hike to the top of each peak, because I just didn’t feel the same sense of accomplishment from driving most of the way up. Hopefully one day I’ll have the chance to return and climb the peaks on foot.

Nevertheless, I now have seven state high points under my belt. Hopefully that number will be increasing soon. When it does, I’ll have another “On Top Of” post to share. In the meantime, you can read about my previous state high point visits here!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the road to Clingmans Dome splits off from US Highway 441 at Newfound Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Mount Mitchell State Park is a 5 minute drive off the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville, North Carolina
  • Fees and passes: both high points are free to visit
  • Hiking: both high points can be reached by driving to the parking area and walking short, paved trails to the summit, or by hiking much longer and steeper trails from nearby trailheads
  • Camping: there are dozens of camping opportunities near both high points
  • Other: as with all mountain environments, be prepared for rain, thunder, wind, and rapidly changing conditions

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