Sunday Hikes: Mt. LeConte

Mt. LeConte stands 6,593 feet above sea level, is the third tallest mountain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the tallest in the park that is completely in Tennessee. I hiked Mt. LeConte recently with a friend that has hiked it multiple times and he had told me about it many times so when we both had a couple days free in our schedule we took the opportunity to hike the mountain. We arrived at the Alum Cave trailhead at 9:45ish and began our hike. The trail starts fairly flat as it goes along the creek and after crossing the creek on some narrow bridges it goes up some steep stairs through a small cave. After that we quickly gained elevation and looked out over the valley filled with the smokey fog that gives the mountains their name. About half an hour in the hike we got hot enough to take off our jackets. After 2.3 miles we came to the Alum Cave Bluffs and stopped for a minute to look up the large wall of rock the covered us. We carried on up the trail where we began to run into ice covering the trail from the below freezing temperatures of the night before. In some places there were chains to hold on to making the ice a little less of a worry. We began to reach the steep cliffs towards the end of the trail and were extra careful around them with the increasing amount of ice as we gained elevation. The trail then flattened out as we were close to the top of the mountain. The whole trailed was covered in ice here and quite quickly we arrived at the Mt. Leconte Lodge. The Lodge covers a large open area with a mess hall, community room, and many one room cabins you can rent in the summertime. The lodge was closed when we were there and felt like a ghost town with all the doors boarded up and not another person there. It was much colder at the summit and we put our jacket back on! We wandered around and peaked in windows and then carried on the trail past the Appalachian Trail shelter and to the peak of the mountain! We went on the cliffs trail to “inspiration point” and here we could see Clingmans Dome (The highest point in the park) and a sea of fog past the mountains. We could also see how badly the recent forest fires had burned the forest as whole mountain sides had been left black and burnt. We sat here and looked out at the beautiful view before going back to look around some more. We spent maybe an hour on top before heading back down the mountain. The ice had begun to melt and we started to pass more and more hikers going up. Before we knew it we were back at the halfway point of the Bluffs and then very quickly back at the trailhead. The entire hike ended up being about 12 miles with the extra bits at the top and took us 5 hours. Mt. LeConte is a great hike that has the views to back up the steepness of the trail and I can’t wait to return to hike the mountain again! Thanks for reading! – Josh