Last April, we had the opportunity to hike Mt. LeConte in Great Smokey Mountain National Park and the experience was once in a lifetime. Great Smokey Mountain National Park is actually one of the most diverse parks in terms of wildlife and plant life and this hike really showcases it all.
While visiting Mt. LeConte, we actually stayed at LeConte Lodge, so I’ll be sharing information about this as well. This entire experience was something I’ll never forget so here are all the details.
Getting to Mt. LeConte
There are about 6 hiking trails that will lead you to Mt. LeConte, all ranging from 5 to 9 miles. Each trail is unique and offers its own benefits, but here are some details on the 4 that I recommend.
- Length: About 5 miles one way
- Rating: Difficult as it features a 2929-foot elevation gain with many steep cliffs.
- Start Location: This trail starts in the Alum Cave parking lot just off 441 about 10 miles in the park from Gatlinburg. This parking lot fills up but if quite large so if you get there early you should be fine.
- More Details: While this is the shortest hike, since it’s steep, you may save miles but hiking time is pretty equal with other trails. This trail features cliffs, Alum Cave Bluff, and many other viewpoints
- Length: About 8 miles one way (You have to start at Newfound Gap parking lot and hike the Appalachian trail for almost 3 miles before meeting Boulevard trail, which is then another 5 miles to Mt. LeConte)
- Rating: Moderate (Elevation gain is only 543 ft)
- Start Location: Newfound Gap Trailhead, which is off highway 441 about 13 miles from Gatlinburg into the park.
- More Details: Trail also has great viewpoints, and you get to hike part of the Appalachian Trail
Rainbow Falls Trail
- Length: About 6 miles one way
- Rating: Difficult (Elevation gain is over 3000 ft)
- Start Location: Trailhead is off Cherokee Orchard Rd.
- More Details: This trail features Rainbow Falls, which is beautiful, and about 2.5 miles into the hike
Trillium Gap Trail
- Length: About 8.9 miles one way
- Rating: Difficult (Over 3000 ft elevation gain)
- Start Location: Grotto Falls trailhead, which is also off Cherokee Orchard Rd.
- More Details: This trail also features Grotto Falls, which you can walk behind and get great pictures. This is also the trail the llamas take to Mt. LeConte when bringing supplies.
Staying on Mt. LeConte
While it’s not unrealistic to day hike to Mt. LeConte, I recommend staying on the mountain to soak in all the magic. We only stayed 1 night and that was perfect. You can either stay at LeConte Lodge or camp. Here are details on both options.
Being able to stay at LeConte Lodge is a unique experience and there isn’t quite anything like it. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely rustic as there is no electricity or showers (so plan to sponge bath) but the atmosphere and solitude is unmatched.
You will have your own cabin or share one with others (but have your own room), have unlimited coffee and tea during select times, and be served dinner and breakfast all included with your stay. We stayed in a community cabin, which was great because we met and talked so many different people and learned their stories.
Since this is a one-of-a-kind experience, the lodge books up quickly for the entire year. Booking for each year begins on October 1st of the prior year but if you don’t get a reservation that day, you can always sign up on the waitlist. This is actually what I did and was able to get in with a cancellation. Save the website link to your calendar now so you can prepare your visit. http://www.lecontelodge.com/reservations/
If you would rather camp, you can reserve your spot at the Mt. LeConte Shelter. This is about .2 miles LeConte Lodge and still offers the beauty, solitude and magic of staying on Mt. LeConte. Reservations must be made in advance here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov
Things to Do
After you have arrived to Mt. LeConte and relaxed a bit, there are plenty of things to do while on the mountain.
Take Time for some amazing photos. Here are the best Photo Ops.
- LeConte Lodge dining room, which displays the day and elevation on a sign.
- Myrtle Point
- Cliff Top
- Watch the Sunset (Cliff Top is the best place)
Meet Other Hikers
Meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling to new places and this is no different. Talking to some of the staff and other lodgers made the entire experience that much more special. Plus you may even learn some new tips about the area.
When you reach Mt. LeConte, you will feel accomplished and at peace. The feeling seems to bring out the best in everyone. For that reason, I recommend taking some time to yourself to really take it all in.
Okay that’s it for our hiking trip to Mt. LeConte. Please comment or message me with your own experience, I would love to hear from you. Also, for more information on Great Smokey Mountain National Park, check out my blog post here.