For viewing spectacular Smoky Mountain sunrises and sunsets, there is no better place than Mt. LeConte. Countless visitors have huddled together to view the sunrise from Myrtle Point on the eastern side, and hurried to see the sun set over Clingman’s Dome from Clifftops on the western flank.
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 from the summit of Mt. LeConte?
Today, LeConte Lodge is the highest inn providing lodging for visitors in the East. 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 hail, and a cluster of small cabins equipped with double-bunk beds. Dinner at the dining hall is served at 6 p.m., breakfast at 8 am. A packtrain of llamas brings food, bed linens, and other supplies to and from the Lodge three times a week. These animals do not damage these heavily used trails as much as horses.
Cabins at the LeConte LodgeLeConte Lodge can accommodate an average of 45 guests per night, and normally fills up a year in advance. Reservations are required for the lodge and for the 12-man lean-to shelter (with bear-proof chain link fence across the opening) near the lodge. There is no charge for staying at the shelter, but reservations are required through the Park’s backcountry office.
Trails to LeConte
More than 10,000 hikers use the trails to LeConte each year. Five major trails drape the mountain. The shortest (5 miles one-way) and most popular is the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, 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 with two carsAlum 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
For an interesting account about hiking the trails of LeConte, be sure to visit Ed Wright’s Mt. LeConte website. Since retiring in 1991, Ed hikes LeConte 2 to 5 times a week and works as a Volunteer in the Park (VIP). He has written a book “1001 Hikes to Mount LeConte and Counting,” which documents his trips and the hikers he meets along the trails.
What to Bring
Since your dinner, breakfast, and bed are provided, you can pack light! 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 (it rains a lot in the Smokies and even more on LeConte), 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 will he needed!), and money for a souvenir (you may want to buy a T-shirt). Other items that will help you enjoy your trip include: a camera, film, and binoculars (to view the peregrine falcons nesting the bluffs near the summit). NOTE: The accommodations are rustic. 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.
Reservations and Printed Info
Contact Wilderness Lodging at 865.429.5704 or write to 250 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, TN 37862. The cost is about $79.95 per person, per night, with no limit on the number of nights.