A concrete tower with a spiraling walkway winding 375 feet to the top crowns the highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains National Park, but insectile devastation can be seen all around.
From the parking lot at the end of Clingmans Dome Road, a paved one mile trail leads to the tower, with facilities along the way. Along this trail are many stark white Fraser fir snags, ghosts of once-regal firs that were poisoned from the inside by an invasive insect species, the balsam woolly adelgid.
First introduced from Europe around 1900, these insects feed on fir trees and their saliva impedes new growth via a toxin. The adelgid is thought to have killed 95% of all Fraser firs in the park, and fir trees here have a 90-99% chance of hosting the insect. The observation tower that hovers 50 feet over the highest point in Tennessee presents a view partially made up of the natural destruction. However despite the infestation, Clingmans Dome’s views of the Smokies are still spectacular on a clear day.
Know Before You Go
Do note that Clingmans Dome is often fogged out due to the high elevation. They are called the Smokies for a reason. From Newfound Gap in Smoky Mountains National Park at the Tennessee - North Carolina border, drive 7 miles down Clingmans Dome Road, park, and hike 1 mile up the paved trail to the tower. The road is closed in winter.