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Peak to Peak: Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob

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6,634' 2,022 m


2,008' 612 m


8,870' 2,703 m


9,337' 2,846 m



Avg Grade (4°)


Max Grade (22°)

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Features Commonly Backpacked · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

The road to Clingmans Dome observation tower is open April 1 to November 30 but may be closed in bad weather. If the road is closed when you want to start your trip, you can access the observation tower by working your way south on the Appalachian Trail 7.9 miles from the parking area at Newfound Gap on US 441.

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Need to Know

Camping permits, reservations, and fee are required for all backcountry campsites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Call 865-436-1231 or visit the backcountry reservations website.


The 46.8-mile-long Segment 1 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) begins in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), straddling Tennessee and North Carolina. Heading eastbound, the trail starts at the observation tower on top of Clingmans Dome at the state boundary. After paralleling the road to Clingmans Dome for a few miles, it heads deep into the woods on the longest roadless stretch of the MST—22.8 miles with no road access. Emerging to US 441 at Mingus Mill, the segment continues past the GSMNP's Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum and along the Oconaluftee River, popular for tubing.

From here, the trail continues along the shoulder of the BRP for several miles, with two short trail sections to avoid tunnels (in which walking is prohibited). The BRP is famous for the views from its overlooks, and this segment features several. Turning to gravel roads, the route continues through the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, before returning to hiker-only trail for the last 6.4 miles to Waterrock Knob.

Highlights include:

  • The observation tower on Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet
  • Following along Deep Creek, with its cascades and falls
  • Campsite #57, Horace Kephart's last camp, and the historic millstone put up in his memory
  • Historic Mingus Mill, built in 1886 and still in operation; tours are available
  • The cultural and natural history exhibits at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum
  • The 0.3-mile side trip to the summit of Waterrock Knob, the third-highest point on the MST, where views on a clear day can encompass four states

In GSMNP, large wooden signs at every junction indicate the name of the trail and the mileage to each intersecting trail. The trails, other than the Appalachian Trail, are not blazed. There are MST blazes—3-inch white circles—on two short trail sections that bypass tunnels on the BRP at EB Miles 30.7-31.9; WB Miles 14.9-16.1. There are no blazes on the BRP roadway, but there are markers where the trail leaves the roadway. The trail is continuously blazed between Waterrock Knob and EB Mile 35.7; WB Mile 11.1.

For more information, including camping, lodging, parking, shuttles, and resupply information, as well as detailed, turn-by-turn directions, download a trail guide from the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.


Shared By:

Jim Grode with improvements by Tara Parker

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 12 votes


  4.3 from 12 votes
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in North Carolina


23 Views Last Month
8,961 Since Mar 10, 2016
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Rays and ridges from Waterrock Knob. Photo by Robert Stephens.
Mar 24, 2016 near Maggie…, NC
Plenty of mountains to view from Clingman's Dome.
Mar 31, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
The trail on the way up to the summit and tower have spectacular views.
Aug 17, 2021 near Gatlinburg, TN
Good morning, Great Smokies!
Aug 4, 2016 near Bryson…, NC
sunrise at Waterrock Knob
Mar 23, 2020 near Maggie…, NC
Great views from up here.
Jun 9, 2016 near Bryson…, NC



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