Parking: There is plenty of parking near the visitor’s center, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be parking right next to the trailhead. Clingman’s Dome is a popular destination, even for those who don’t plan on hiking. It can get pretty crowded, particularly on summer weekends. My advice is to arrive early.
Distance: This loop begins and ends at Clingman’s Dome and is a total of just under 23 miles. There is an elevation gain of nearly 4000 feet, and the trail is rated as strenuous. Before embarking on this trek make sure you’re physically fit enough to manage the climb.
Terrain: When we hiked this route there were a lot of obstacles on the trail. From rocks and roots that tripped us up, to overturned trees we had to climb over, to the multitude of river crossings, this trail will test your physical limits as well as the integrity of your gear.
River Crossings: This trail crosses the river more than a dozen times. You are going to be very wet by the time you’re through. Be sure to pack a good pair of water shoes and your trekking poles. The rivers swell in heavy rains, so be sure you pay close attention to the weather leading up to your hike, and adjust your dates or your expectations accordingly.
Water: As long as you have a water filter, you’re not going to have a hard time finding water on this trip. The trail follows Forney Creek, and all the campsites have sources of fresh water. Just don’t drink it until it’s been filtered or treated!
Campsites: There are several campsites along this route, all of which require a reservation, which you can obtain online through their backcountry permit system. Permits are $4 per person, per night, with a maximum charge of $20 per person. Some of the campsites are actually shelters, so make sure you have some kind of mosquito netting if you plan on sleeping in one!
Wildlife: As with a great many wilderness locations, there’s a lot of wildlife in the area. This includes, but is not limited to, bears, snakes, and a whole lotta bugs. Bring a lot of bug spray, and always be mindful of your surroundings. Click the link here to learn how to stay safe in bear country.
Bathrooms: Aside from the shelter on the Appalachian Trail, there are not pit toilets on this trail. You will need to pack your trowel for when nature calls, and be sure to adhere to the rules of Leave No Trace: keep your bathroom visits 200 feet from all trails, campsites, and water sources.
Climate: The temperature will vary depending on when you make this trip. Always check the weather before your hike, and be sure you pack layers in case the temperature drops. And regardless of what the weather report says, pack your rain gear! The Great Smoky Mountains are not known for their dry climate, so even if the weatherman is calling for sunshine, a shower can come seemingly out of nowhere. Be prepared.