For those looking for that majestic Smoky Mountain sunrise or sunset,
Mt. LeConte is by far the place to catch the morning or evening sky in all its glory. Numerous hikers have gathered together to view the sunrise from Myrtle Point on the peak's eastern side, and blazed a trail to Clingman's Dome from Clifftops on the western flank to see the setting of the sun.
The Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, an organization formed to seek national park status for the Great Smokies, was just the spark Paul Adams needed. Through the association, Adams came up with an idea for a lodge on top of Mt. LeConte to accommodate visitors. This permanent camp dates back to 1925. In order to win their support for a park in the Southern Appalachians, many prominent visitors spent the night at the early tent camp as guests of the association. Is there a better vantage point to view the spectacular peaks of the Smokies than from the summit of Mt. LeConte?
Today, LeConte Lodge ranks as the highest point of lodging in the eastern half of the United States. Though it's only the park's third largest peak at 6,595 feet, LeConte is actually the "tallest" mountain in the Eastern United States, rising over a vertical mile from
Gatlinburg. Besides the lodge, rustic accommodations include a cluster of small cabins equipped with double-bunk beds and a dining hall. Breakfast at the dining hall is served at 8 a.m., dinner is at 6 p.m. A llama packtrain brings bed linens, food, and other needed supplies to and from the lodge three times a week. The reason llamas are used is because they don't do as much damage to the trails as horses would.
On average, LeConte Lodge can accommodate 45 guests per night. But you better book early because LeConte Lodge usually fills up a year in advance. Not only are reservations required for the lodge, but for the 12-man lean-to shelter (complete with a bear-proof chain link fence across the opening) near the lodge as well. Reservations are required through the park's backcountry office, but there is no charge for staying at the shelter.
Trails to LeConte: Mt. LeConte's trails are used by approximately 10,000 hikers each year. In all, the mountain is draped by five major trails. The Alum Cave Bluffs Trail is the most popular and without a doubt one of the most spectacular trails. It's also the the shortest (5 miles one-way).
The Boulevard Trail (8 miles) is the longest trail, but one that doesn't climb as fast as the others. The most common route is up the Boulevard Trail and down Alum Cave Bluffs. The Bullhead is 7 miles and the Rainbow Falls Trail is 6.5 miles. Beginning at the same trailhead in Cherokee Orchard near Gatlinburg, these two trails can he used as a "loop". The Trillium Gap Trail, passing Grotto Falls, ascends 8 miles from its beginning in the Greenbrier area and provides an array of majestic views of LeConte from Brushy Mountain
Be sure to visit Ed Wright's website at www.mtleconte.com for an interesting account about hiking the peak's trails. Wright has hiked LeConte 2 - 5 times a week since his retirement in 1991, and works as a Volunteer in the Park (VIP). His book documents his trips and the hikers he meets along the trails, "1001 Hikes to Mount LeConte and Counting".
What to Bring: Pack light since breakfast, your dinner, and a bed are provided. A few essentials for the trail include: a small backpack or daypack, water, flashlight, knife, matches, compass, light-weight hiking boots, lunch and a light snack for the return trip, rain gear (it rains a lot here and even more on LeConte), gloves, hat,washcloth and towel, toothbrush, soap (no need for shampoo as there are no showers), toilet paper, two pairs of socks (dry socks will he needed!), a clean shirt, and souvenir money(for a new T-shirt). Other items you might consider bringing for your enjoyment include: binoculars (to view such sights as the peregrine falcons nesting in the bluffs near the summit) and a camera. NOTE: These are some rustic accommodations. When the weather permits flush toilets are available, but when it's chilly, get ready to be introduced to Mt. LeConte's outhouse. Heat and light are provided for with kerosene, and a wash basin is the only bathing facility.
For LeConte Lodge Reservations or Printed Info: Contact Wilderness Lodging at 865.429.5704 or write to 250 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, TN 37862. Reservations are accepted beginning in October. Most weekends book quickly, the weekdays will reserve slower but will mostly be reserved by November. The cost is about $89.00 per person, per night, with no limit on the number of nights.