Smoky Mountains Day 2 itinerary:
- Stupid early – drive to Clingman’s Dome
- Nap in Clingman’s Dome parking lot
- 9:00 – Hiked to Clingman’s Dome
- Continue down the Appalachian Trail
- Fail to find Siler’s Bald
- 4:30 – return to Clingman’s Dome lot
- Returned to hotel
Day 2’s itinerary really only had two items on the list: wake up and go watch the sunrise and then hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail starting at Clingman’s Dome. We were able to get up early enough to do the sunrise thing in spite of the previous nights minimal sleep. I haven’t done a lot of sunrise photography, but I’m happy with the pictures I got.
It was still pretty cold in the morning, so we took a short nap in the car afterward and before heading up to Clingman’s Dome. We must have started up the trail to the dome right before 9:00 because we passed the gift shop and then turned around when we noticed the rangers arriving to open it (I was in search of a hat for sun protection).
The hike up to Clingman’s Dome is a paved trail, so nothing too interesting, plus we had been to the observation tower before. After a quick stop there, we headed West down the AT headed toward Siler Bald. I think this was a 4-5 mile hike, but I had some bad map reading skills (misinterpreted an icon as denoting a location) and we came within a few hundred yards of Siler Bald without realizing it and instead backtracked a bit and ended up hiking an extra mile or so down a horse trail.
It was a nice stretch of the AT to hike (downhill on the way out, which makes sense since Clingman’s is the highest point in the park), and we crossed paths with a good number of people who were doing multi-day hikes. This included one guy who apparently had a schedule to keep because he breezed into one of the overlooks, apologized for ducking in front of us, snapped one phone picture and headed on his way. I’m not sure if it was because of the season, the time of day or the portion of the trail, but we saw way more hikers than we did when we hiked a portion of the AT to Charlie’s Bunion from the Newfound Gap.
The trail does have some impressive views, but when photographed in broad daylight, they tend to all come out looking very similar. Below are a pair of shots from very near Siler Bald looking back at Clingman’s Dome – you can’t really see it in the first one, but in the zoomed in version, you can see the observation deck at the top.
We made it back to the parking lot around 4:30, but I had a slight panic when the eyepiece on my camera was missing and thus backtracked down the trail just a bit to find it. Turns out they cost $0.83 on eBay, so other than having the eyepiece for the remainder of the trip, it probably wasn’t worth it.
I don’t think we were awake enough to attempt sunset pictures Friday night.