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Exploring the Highest Peaks in the Smokies

clingmans dome

The NC Great Smoky Mountains boast some of the highest peaks on the eastern seaboard. Some of them provide long-range views, including across several states. Others have distinct features that make for an exceptional and unique visit. Here are some of our favorite highest peaks in the area and what you can expect to find.

clingmans dome
By Dsdugan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Clingman’s Dome

Clingmans Dome is one of the most iconic mountain peaks in the Smokies. Sitting at an elevation of 6,643 feet, it is the highest point in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On a clear day, visitors to the observation tower can see 7 states.

Located in Swain County, less than 10 miles from historic Bryson City and only 7 miles west of Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome holds another honor. It is also the highest point on the 2,144-mile Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

There is a clean and convenient Park Visitor Center with restrooms at the Clingmans Dome parking area. From the lot, visitors can hike the steep, half-mile trail to the observation tower. The path is too steep to be wheelchair accessible, and neither bikes nor pets are permitted on it.

At the summit stands the spectacular 54-foot-high observation deck that seems to be dangling out into open space. From this vantage point, sightseers are treated to 360-degree views across 100 miles of forests, rivers, and other nearby mountains.

The road to Clingmans Dome is closed from December 1 to April 1, and, as of 2023, there is a $5/day fee if you are parked in the lot for more than 15 minutes. The temperature is considerably cooler at the summit, so bring a jacket even in the summer months.

Andrews Bald

Another spectacular view can be found at Andrews Bald. The trailhead is conveniently located in the Clingmans Dome parking area, and many hikers explore both vantage points on the same day.

The 1.8-mile Forney Ridge Trail descends to Andrews Bald, a high-elevation grassy knob named for a cattle herder who brought his livestock there to feed in the 1840s. With no trees to hinder your view, you can enjoy the expansive view from a beautiful meadow of wildflowers.

A sweeping view from Newfound Gap Road
Photo Courtesy Swain County TDA / Chamber of Commerce.

Black Balsam Knob

Rising to a majestic elevation of 6,214 feet, Black Balsam Knob easily makes our list of the highest peaks with the most stunning views. Black Balsam Knob in Haywood County near Waynesville can be accessed at milepost 420.2 on the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway.

Its knob is the second highest mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains. Like Andrews Bald, Black Balsam Knob is a treeless grassy bald with multiple hiking trails offering dramatic vistas.

Huckleberry Knob

Featuring a grassy meadow summit set to a backdrop of birdsongs and wildlife calls, Huckleberry Knob is the highest peak in the Unicoi Mountains. Like the Great Smoky Mountains, the Unicoi are a subset of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Located in Robbinsville, NC in Graham County, the Huckleberry Knob Trail leads from the Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway to the bald via an easy 1.7-mile out-and-back trail. The total hike can be completed in about 50 minutes.

Wayah Bald Tower

Located near Franklin, the Wayah Bald Tower, built in 1927 as a fire lookout, is a unique, historic destination that you won’t want to miss! The decommissioned tower is on the well-traveled Bartram Trail, also serving as a popular photo opportunity on the Appalachian Trail.

Sitting atop the Wayah Bald at 5,342 feet in elevation, the old-stone structure offers some of the most scenic views in the Smoky Mountains. And regardless of where you are staying in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Wayah Bald Tower is within an easy drive. Just 40 minutes from Franklin, an hour and 20 minutes southwest of Bryson City, and an hour and 20 minutes northwest of Highlands, the tower is a convenient day trip offering unparalleled views as your reward.

Insider Tip: The Wayah Bald Tower can be reached with a short walk from the parking lot, making it a perfect destination for all ages and activity levels.

wayah bald tower

Mount Mitchell

Although just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains, Mount Mitchell deserves more than an honorable mention on this list. Located in nearby Yancy County, this towering peak, reaching 6,684 feet above sea level, is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. From the summit, visitors can take in a 360-degree view of this striking landscape while enjoying the heady scent of the surrounding spruce forest.

Come reach new heights with us in the glorious westernmost part of North Carolina!