Hike Up One Of The Highest Peaks In The Eastern U.S. At This Popular National Park

The eastern United States is not often associated with mountains as the western United States. After all, the Rocky Mountains that run from New Mexico up into western Canada and Alaska is the mountain range with the tallest peaks in North America. However, the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States have popular destinations as well. Among the most popular areas in this mountain range is the Great Smoky Mountains which stretch over the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

The Great Smoky Mountains are known for being the birthplace of Dolly Parton, with her theme park Dollywood less than one hour north of the mountains. Gatlinburg, Tennessee on the edge of the mountain range is one of the most popular vacation spots in the entire United States. With these attractions aside, some of the best things to do in the area still involve the nature found in the mountains. In fact, Great Smoky Mountains National Park makes up much of the range and is home to one of the tallest peaks in the eastern United States: Clingmans Dome.

The Observation Tower at Clingmans Dome offers 360-degree views

Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the third tallest mountain in the eastern United States. Visitors can reach the 6,643-foot summit by driving to the parking lot at the end of Clingmans Dome Road. The road offers beautiful scenery even before you reach its endpoint, but keep in mind that it's closed from December through March. To get to the top of the dome, you must follow a half-mile paved but steep trail on foot after parking your car at Clingmans Dome Road. The summit of Clingmans Dome features an observation tower with 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Photographers and lovers of the great outdoors alike enjoy the summit of Clingmans Dome because of its gorgeous sunset views. Visiting at this time of day is so popular that photographers begin to form a line before the sunset occurs. Serious hikers who brave the lengthy Appalachian Trail will pass by Clingmans Dome as well.

Watch out for bears while camping at Great Smoky National Park

Aside from Clingmans Dome, other popular things to see in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include multiple waterfalls. Many of these like Grotto Falls and Hen Wallow Falls are found along hiking trails, but some are close to paved roads. Meigs Falls, the Sinks, and Place of a Thousand Drips are all accessible by car. Park visitor centers also have maps that mark the trails and waterfalls.

There are campsites within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well. Backcountry sites are in more remote locations and are best found by map. Frontcountry sites have the usual campground amenities like restrooms, but no electric or water capabilities for individual camping spots. There are 10 of these frontcountry sites and reservations are required through Recreation.gov. Any type of camping in the park could see black bears. Remember that wildlife is valuable as all species positively contribute to their landscapes. Therefore — to help them and others stay safe — do not approach bears, keep food locked away, and take all belongings and trash with you at the end of your trip.