For viewing spectacular Smoky Mountain sunrises and sunsets, there is no better place than Mt. LeConte. Countless visitors have joined together to view the sunrise from Myrtle Point on the eastern side, and hurried to see the sun set over Clingmans Dome from Clifftops on the western side.
The idea for a lodge on top of Mt. LeConte to accommodate visitors dates back to 1925 when Paul Adams established a permanent camp for the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, an organization formed to seek national park status for the Great Smokies. Many prominent visitors spent the night at the early tent camp as guests of the Association in order to win their support for a park in the Southern Appalachians. Where else could you provide a better grandstand view of the Smokies than the summit of Mt. LeConte?
Today, LeConte Lodge is the highest inn providing lodging for visitors at the mountaintop. Although LeConte is the third highest mountain in the Park at 6,595 feet, it is actually the “tallest” mountain in the Eastern United States, rising over a vertical mile from Gatlinburg. Rustic accommodations include the lodge, a dining hall and a cluster of small cabins equipped with double-bunk beds. Breakfast is served at the dining hall at 8 a.m. and dinner at 6 p.m. A pack of llamas bring food, bed linens and other supplies to and from the LeConte Lodge three times per week. Llamas are used because they don’t damage the trails as much as the horses.
Cabins at the LeConte Lodge can accommodate an average of 45 guests per night. The LeConte Lodge is so popular now that it normally fills up over a year in advance. Reservations are required to stay at the Lodge. There is no charge for staying at the shelter near the Lodge, but reservations are required through the Park’s backcountry office. Call 865-436-1297 for information regarding backcountry permits.
Hiking Trails to Mt. LeConte and the Mt. LeConte Lodge
More than 10,000 hikers use the trails to Mt. LeConte each year. Five major trails drape the mountainside. The shortest (5 miles one-way) and most popular is the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, and is, without a doubt, the most spectacular trail in the whole park!
The longest trail (but with the least elevation gain) is the Boulevard Trail at 8 miles. Many visitors hike Alum Cave Trail, go up the Boulevard Trail and come down Alum Cave Bluffs.
Rainbow Falls Trail is 6.5 miles and Bullhead 7 miles. These two trails can he used as a “loop” beginning at the same trailhead in Cherokee Orchard near Gatlinburg.
The Trillium Gap Trail, which passes by Grotto Falls, comes up the mountain from the Greenbrier area is 8 miles, providing spectacular views of LeConte from Brushy Mountain.
What to Take on Your Hike to Mt. LeConte Lodge
Since your dinner, breakfast and bed are provided, you can pack light! This is also great because you will want to hike with as little as possible on your back!
Some essentials: light-weight hiking boots, a small backpack or daypack, flashlight, water, compass, knife, matches, lunch for the day you go up and a light snack for the return trip, rain gear, hat, gloves, washcloth and towel, toothbrush, soap (you won’t need your shampoo–no showers!), toilet paper, a clean shirt and two pairs of socks (dry socks are always helpful!), and money for a souvenir or additional snack once you reach the Lodge. You’ll also want to remember to pack your camera and binoculars so you can get the best views of the Smoky Mountains and take pictures to remember your hike!
Remember that the weather on Mt.LeConte does get a little bit colder in the evening hours in comparison to the lower elevations of the national park, so it will be helpful to pack a light jacket or sweatshirt.
NOTE: The accommodations are rustic and meant to give visitors a true experience of staying a night in the Smokies. Flush toilets are available while the weather permits, but when it gets too cold, you get to experience the thrill of an outhouse. Kerosene is used for heat and light, and the only bathing facility is a wash basin for a sponge bath.
But don’t forget, you’re experiencing views of the Smokies unlike anywhere else in the national park. Your experience at the LeConte Lodge in the Smoky Mountains will be one you definitely will never forget, and you’ll want to come back every year!
Can’t make it to see Mt. LeConte? Don’t worry! Take a look at our Mt.LeConte webcams so you can enjoy the sights from Mt.LeConte without the hike.