“Peak to Peak: Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob
— Jim Grode
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This route covers Segment 1 of North Carolinas 1150-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail. There are two alternate routes for completing this segment: The Great Smoky Mountains Route (this trail) or the River Valley Route, Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 1B
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) straddles Tennessee and North Carolina. If national parks have specialties, the Smokies is known as a hikers park. The scenery is diverse: mountain views, old-growth trees, waterfalls, streams, and more shades of green than a paint chart. Trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Mile for mile, hiking in the park is easier than in the neighboring national forests. Even though there are no blazes on Smokies trails, they are so well marked at every intersection that you can follow them with confidence.
The Smokies may be the most visited national park in the country but only the roads and parking lots are congested. With over 800 miles of trails, even popular trails are not very busy. The Smokies, in a temperate rain forest, have a great variety of wildflowers, from the first bloodroot in March to the last asters in October. But visitors will also see the richness of the community life that was here before the area became a national park in 1934.
The MST starts at the observation tower on top of Clingmans Dome
at the state boundary. This segment goes deep in the woods, crosses US 441, climbs up to an isolated mountain, and comes out on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). The trails in the Smokies are well-maintained and well-marked.
- The observation tower on Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet
- Traveling along Deep Creek, with its cascades and falls
- Campsite #57, Horace Kepharts last camp, and the historic millstone put up in his memory
- Lufty Baptist Church, a small church established in 1836 and reconstructed in 1912
- Chasteen Creek Falls
- Masonic marker on the BRP
The road to Clingmans Dome
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 hike, you can hike south on the Appalachian Trail 7.9 miles from the parking area at Newfound Gap on US 441.
Heintooga Road is closed seasonally to cars, usually from the end of October to mid-May. Check seasonal closures at nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/…
and the latest road closures at twitter.com/SmokiesRoadsNPS
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
Many maps, including the GSMNP and National Geographic map #229, show a different route for the MST than the one detailed here. The ultimate route for the MST is under discussion, and this route and the alternate River Valley Route, Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 1B
, are both ways that you can use to complete the segment now. The old route veers off this route at the intersection of Newton Bald Trail
and Mingus Creek Trail
. To follow the current route, stay on Newton Bald Trail
. The first 12 miles (eastbound) of this route are the same as Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 1B
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. The MST blazes3 white circlesstart at EB Mile 62.0; WB Mile 8.3 on BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) 434. There are no blazes on the BRP.
For more information about this segment, 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.