The 6,643-foot summit of Clingmans Dome reigns supreme as the highest in the Great Smoky Mountains. Not only that, but it’s the third-highest peak in the Southern Appalachians and the entire eastern U.S. A couple of lesser-known—and less-crowded—subpeaks lie along the divide in its near vicinity. Mount Buckley is one of them, and steering for it helps you ditch the hubbub around the Dome. Plus, you can easily visit both summits on a single-loop hike.
It’s a 1.7-mile undertaking involving a few different trails, including the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail, the world-famous Appalachian Trail, and the standard path up Clingmans Dome. This review describes the loop as taken in a counter-clockwise direction.
There’s not a ton of elevation gain but wear sturdy footwear, expect a bit of steepness, and be prepared for a potentially muddy tread depending on recent conditions. By the way, the Clingmans Dome Road is closed during the winter, so this is generally a spring-through-fall opportunity.
From the Clingmans Dome parking lot, take the lefthand trail instead of the paved footpath to the observation tower at the Dome’s crown. In about a tenth of a mile, this descending trail reaches the T-junction between the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail going northwest and the Forney Ridge Trail heading south toward Andrews Bald. Take the Bypass Trail, which skirts the steep headwater bowl of Forney Creek.
About 0.6 miles from the parking area, you’ll hit the ridgeline of the Smoky Mountain divide between Clingmans Dome to the east and Mount Buckley to the west. This ridgecrest comes traced by the Appalachian Trail (the “A.T.”). Turn left to reach the mostly timbered summit of Mount Buckley at about 6,580 feet.
You’ll steal some views over the mountainscape falling away off the divide from the Mount Buckley summit area, though trees obscure much of the panorama. But it’s still a nice taste of the spruce-fir zone that caps Smoky Mountain ridges and summits.
Plus, you’ll earn some bragging rights. Technically speaking, Mount Buckley is the fourth-highest peak in the Great Smokies. We say “technically” because its close proximity to Clingmans Dome along the same high crest means many deem it more a Dome subpeak than a standalone summit. A similar distance away northeast from Clingmans Dome along the divide, 6,420-foot Mount Love—the fifth-highest point in the range—is often similarly categorized.
(As you can read more about here, if Buckley and Love aren’t counted on a list of the highest Smoky Mountain summits, the fourth and fifth slots are occupied by 6,417-foot Mount Chapman and 6,370-foot Old Black.)
If you’re not feeling like dealing with major crowds, you can certainly hike back to the Clingmans Dome parking lot by the way you came. But if you want to hit up the Dome—or you’re among those hikers who hate retracing their steps—head east from Mount Buckley and stay on the A.T. This will bring you to the Clingmans Dome summit path. Enjoy the dazzling vistas from the observation tower, then return to the parking lot via the half-mile paved path.
As the king peak of the Smokies and a killer vantage, Clingmans Dome unsurprisingly ranks among the most popular landmarks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail—and the quieter, less-dramatic top of Mount Buckley—offer a welcome escape from the Dome’s throngs.
-If you have the time and energy, it’s easy enough to include Mount Love on your Clingmans Dome-area circuit as well. Just keep on the Appalachian Trail northeast from the Dome to reach the forested summit of Mount Love in about a half-mile.
-Other worthy out-and-back day hiking goals for an enthusiastic hiker in the Mount Buckley vicinity include Silers Bald (farther west on the A.T. from Buckley) and Andrews Bald (southward on the Forney Ridge Trail).