The Clingmans Dome sunset is one of the best sunset locations at Great Smoky Mountains National Park! These rolling mountains turn a vibrant blue and purple as the sun sets, astounding both young and old. I grew up near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park. While these mountains live true to their name, I’ve never seen such a vibrant blue as when I watched the sunset at Clingmans Dome. Keep reading to learn more about the Clingmans Dome sunset!
Clingmans Dome Hike Trail Details & Location
Difficulty: Easy | Round Trip Distance: 1 mi | Elevation Gain: 332 ft. | Time: 1 hr
Trailhead Location: Clingmans Dome is located about 7 miles past the Newfound Gap Overlook in the North Carolina Section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
As soon as you pass Newfound Gap from the north, there is a turnoff to the right called Clingmans Dome Road. It is well marked. While it was open in October 2018 when we visited, Clingmans Dome Road is closed in the winter, so plan your trip accordingly.
The parking lot for Clingmans Dome has public restrooms (really glorified port-a-johns) as well as a Visitor’s Center.
The Clingmans Dome Hike Trailhead is located next to this parking lot. While it is just .5 miles up to the top of the dome, it is quite steep and the elevation left me breathless at times. However, the view was worth the hike! If you can’t make the steep climb, it is still worth driving up just to see the sunset from the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot.
Even Before Sunset, the View From the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot was Spectacular
We arrived at the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot in the late afternoon. This late autumn sun cast a beautiful glow to the Appalachian mountains turning them a vibrant, smoky blue.
My sister turned to me several times and exclaimed, “I’ve never seen mountains so blue!”
In Addition to Magnificent Sunsets, Clingmans Dome is Also Home to One of the Best Sunrise Locations at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Because Clingmans Dome offers a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains, it is also one of the best sunrise locations.
I can only imagine what the above vista from Clingmans Dome would look like at sunrise. We opted to hike to Grotto Falls for our sunrise photographs, so we had to settle for just a sunset at Clingmans Dome. That said, the sunset did not disappoint!
Waiting for the Sun to Set at Clingmans Dome is Half the Fun
Once I hiked to the top of Clingmans Dome and saw the panoramic views, I set up my tri-pod facing the location of the sunset and began to wait.
In October, the sunset location was actually not at the top of the dome, rather, it was part way down the ramp.
My sister and I were not alone in our wait. Several photographers lined up next to us, cameras in hand or on tri-pods, and patiently waited for the sun to peek through the clouds.
Because Clingmans Dome is the highest elevation in the park, at 6,643 ft., it was quite windy and cold. Thankfully we brought a hat, gloves, and several layers. This helped us out tremendously as we waited for the sun to set.
It’s no Wonder Why This National Park is Called Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Having watched the sunset at Clingmans Dome, I can see why this National Park is called Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Every step I took, I was blown away. The mountains appeared as if they were literally shrouded in smoke. It was incredible.
To Capture a Different View of the Sunset at Clingmans Dome, I began running back down the hiking trail towards the parking lot
Foolhardy or not, that’s exactly what I did – run. My sister grabbed my tri-pod and I grabbed my camera.
I began a dangerous sprint down the steep Clingmans Dome Trail so that I could have different perspectives of this magnificent sunset.
As I ran, I noticed the sky light up and flood itself with a hazy pinkish hue. I paused several times, snapping photos, and then continued sprinting down the mountain.
Almost every stopping point offered magnificent views of the Clingmans Dome Sunset.
At last I neared the parking lot.
Because I ran ahead of my sister, I didn’t have my tri-pod for some of my sunset shots
Several of my photographs were lesser quality because I ran faster than my sister down the Clingmans Dome Trail and took photos without a tri-pod.
Still, I was able to fully enjoy the majestic sunset.
After the sun set, I continued photographing the changing colors on the landscape
One rule I learned in my photography class was to wait 30 minutes after sunset before putting your camera gear away.
Some of the most brilliant colors and sky drama appear AFTER the sun sets.
Notice the subtle shift in color between these two photographs. Every second can morph the colors of the sunset.
When I finally reached the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot, I was able to capture the final rays of the sunset.
After the Sun Finished Setting, the Hazy Blue Smoky Mountains Turned a Vibrant Purple
Honestly, I had no idea this sunset at Clingmans Dome would be so beautiful!
The final minutes cast an eerie purple glow along the tops of the Smoky Mountains.
After we watched the sunset at Clingmans Dome, my sister and I enjoyed a nice dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant in Gatlinburg, TN. This evening was a memory I will cherish forever.
Overall, watching the sunset at Clingmans Dome was worth it! I hope you get the opportunity to see Clingmans Dome and Great Smoky Mountains National Park for yourself. If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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