First Timer’s Guide To Day Hiking Mount LeConte

Hiking to the summit of Mount LeConte is a task on the bucket list of many. The extraordinary Gatlinburg massif towers at 6,593 feet at it's highest point, making it the fourth highest peak on the east coast and third highest in the Smokies. There are 6 different ways to reach the top.

The Eye Of The Needle on Alum Cave Trail

Mount LeConte Trails

If you're planning on hiking to the top for the first time, odds are that you've already chosen Alum Cave Trail as your route. The 5 mile stretch is the shortest trail and probably the best choice for a newcomer. However, there are pros and cons to each of the 6 routes. If you're up for a little more mileage, there are options that might be a bit easier on the knees.

Trails to LeConte
Mount LeConte's 6 Trails

Alum Cave

Route Info: 1 trail, 5 miles total

Trailhead: Newfound Gap Road [Map]

Starting Elevation: 3878'

Pros: shortest & easiest route, incredible views throughout including Alum Cave Bluffs, Inspiration Point, and a distant Clingman's Dome on a clear day

Pros: the busiest of all 6 trails and one of the most trekked in the entire park

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The Boulevard

Route Info: 2 trails, 8.1 miles total

Trailhead: Newfound Gap [Map]

Starting Elevation: 5039'

Pros: a high starting point makes for the only LeConte hike that isn't a relentlessly steep climb, incredible views throughout

Pros: first 2.7 miles on the AT can get fairly crowded; elevation changes make it a tougher one to go back down

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Bullhead

Route Info: 3 trails, 6.9 miles total

Trailhead: Cherokee Orchard [Map]

Starting Elevation: 2602'

Pros: potential loop hike, The Pulpit, wide open views for most of the trail after the 2016 Gatlinburg fires, least traveled route

Pros: some of the roughest terrain out of the 6 trails, very steep, many consider it very difficult

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Rainbow Falls

Route Info: 1 trail, 6.5 miles total

Trailhead: Cherokee Orchard [Map]

Starting Elevation: 2602'

Pros: waterfall at the 2.7 mile marker, potential loop hike

Pros: the short waterfall hike makes the first portion of this trail a very crowded spot if you don't start early enough

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Trillium Gap

Route Info: 1 trail, 8.9 miles total

Trailhead: Cherokee Orchard [Map]

Starting Elevation: 2602'

Pros: most gentle incline of the 6, potential loop hike, the LeConte llama train, Grotto Falls early on in the trail

Pros: the longest single trail to LeConte, the last 3.6 miles can feel pretty brutal

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Brushy Mountain

Route Info: 3 trails, 9.1 miles total

Trailhead: Greenbrier Cove [Map]

Starting Elevation: 1696'

Pros: the roundabout way of reaching the lodge makes it an unpopular option, beautiful views of Mt LeConte from the trail & summit of Brushy Mountain

Pros: the longest route possible, includes the last 3.6 miles of Trillium Gap; most of the trail gets overgrown in the spring & summer

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Alum Cave Trail (5 m)Arch Rock (1.4 m)Arch RockAlum Cave Bluffs (2.3 m)Alum Cave Bluffs (4.1 m)Vantage PointHallelujah Turn (4.8 m)Hallelujah TurnInspiration Point (2 m)Inspiration PointAppalachian Trail (2.7 m)Boulevard Trail (5.4 m)The Jumpoff (2.8 m)The JumpoffAnakeesta KnobAnakeesta KnobVantage Point (6.9 m)Vantage PointMyrtle Point (7.4 m)Myrtle PointHigh TopHigh TopOld Sugarlands Trail (0.4 m)Bullhead Trail (5.9 m)Rainbow Falls Trail (0.6 m)The PulpitThe PulpitFire Damage (2.1 m)Fire DamageIntersection with Rainbow FallsIntersection with Rainbow FallsRainbow Falls Trail (6.5 m)Rainbow FallsRainbow FallsFire Damage (3.7 m)Fire DamageTrillium Gap Trail (8.9 m)Grotto FallsGrotto FallsBrushy MountainBrushy MountainPorters Creek Trail (1 m)Brushy Mountain Trail (4.5 m)Trillium Gap Trail (3.6 m)Summit of Brushy MountainSummit of Brushy Mountain12345678925003500450055006500
Alum Cave trail descending Mount LeConte

Mount LeConte Weather

What's the temperature like at the top of Mount LeConte? A general rule of thumb is that the summit of the mountain is about 13 degrees cooler (usually a bit more) than the temperature in Gatlinburg. However, news stations and internet searches will give you temperatures for both locations. It is generally significantly windier at the highest parts of the mountain, so it's smart to always pack an extra layer for lunchtime at the lodge, Cliff Tops, or Myrtle Point.

Pro Tip: On a LeConte hike I completed in June of 2022, I was dressed for summer in East Tennessee and didn't bring a jacket to the top. Upon our arrival the lodge was immersed in a cloud of fog and wind, making it much colder. I was forced to wear the reusable poncho I keep in my pack to stay warm. No matter what time of year, bring extra layers!

view of Clingman's Dome from Alum Cave Trail

How Long Does It Take?

This question of course depends on the trail and the hiker! For example, my most recent hike via Alum Cave took me 3 hours to reach the lodge, but I have completed it in less time and more time. However, I'm a seasoned hiker with a generally quick pace. If you're new to the hiking scene, prepare your timeline assuming it will average out to about 1.5 miles per hour. Some miles are easier than others, but this is a good rule of thumb to start with if you don't have much experience.

Pro Tip: In the Smokies you are always going to have better luck parking and more time on the trail to yourself if you start early. Particularly with extremely popular trails like Alum Cave, if you don't arrive before 8:00 am you might not have a place to park your car.

Front view of the dining hall at LeConte Lodge - October 15, 2022

LeConte Lodge: Facilities

There are a couple of restrooms at LeConte Lodge, but don't expect anything too fancy. The lodge's gift shop is open to day hikers from noon to 4:30 pm during their open season (usually from March through November). Day hikers can purchase apparel, stickers, misc gift items and sack lunches. The guest book is located in the gift shop area. If you're planning on purchasing something with a card, you will need to fill out an authorization form (provided on site) and show a valid ID. The lodge does not take American Express.

The water spigot is inaccessible when the lodge is closed (December 2021)

How Much Water Should I Bring?

On any Smoky Mountain hike with double-digit mileage, it's best to bring 2 liters of water at a minimum. I usually bring 2.5-3 liters of water. You'll be drinking more than you normally would, and it's always best to bring extra. When the lodge is open, there is a water spigot accessible to day hikers next to the gift shop building, but you won't be able to refill during the winter months. Regardless of the refill options, bring more water than you think you need!

View from Myrtle Point on Mount LeConte

Where Are The Best Views?

LeConte Lodge is not the summit of Mount LeConte. There are two accessible peaks on the mountain that require just a bit more hiking to reach, but it's definitely worth it to make the extra climb for a great lunch spot. The closest option for most is the Cliff Tops, with access just up the steps in front of the dining hall to the 0.2 mile spur trail. The other option is Myrtle Point, which is just under a mile from the lodge. If you take The Boulevard, access to Myrtle Point is en route to the lodge.

Llamas at LeConte Lodge

Where Are The Llamas?

The lodge cares for a team of pack llamas that move supplies up and down the mountain. They always take Trillium Gap Trail typically on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If they're at the lodge, you can find them (possibly eating pancakes) at the lower part of the lodge (beneath the dining hall) close to the entry point for Trillium Gap. If they're on the move, you may find them on the trail after 8:00 am.

Trillium Gap Trail

Be sure to check out the lodge's website for more FAQs and information about overnight stays and online shopping. The daily blog posts on High On LeConte are also very useful in determining what your hike might look like regarding weather and trail conditions.

Caroline's GSM Hike Log

Hikes completed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

GSM Hikes

45

Total amount of miles hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains

RT Miles

527.6

Total amount of trails covered in the Great Smoky Mountains

Trail Miles

186.2

Total miles hiked on the GSMNP segment of the Appalachian Trail

AT Miles

21.2

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