Planning a trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and not sure which of the hundred of hikes to choose? We have been there! If there is one hike that stands above the rest, it is the 11 mile trek to Mt. LeConte, one of the tallest peaks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Not only will you experience some of the best views in the park at the summit, but the hike also includes something new at every turn. A babbling creek, a unique cave, a natural rock tunnel and stunning mountain views – what more could you want in a hike? In this article, we’ll lay out everything you need to know to plan your Mt. LeConte hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
- Details | Mount LeConte Hike
- About Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Mt. LeConte hike overview
- Hike Stats
- How difficult is the hike to Mt. Leconte?
- Parking and getting to the trailhead
- Alum Creek
- Arch Rock
- Inspiration Point
- Alum Cave
- The final climb
- Mt. Leconte Summit
- Logistics | Planning your Mt. LeConte Hike
- Other useful resources
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
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Details | Mt. LeConte Hike
About Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is far and away the most visited national park in the United States, with over 12 million visitors in 2020, and for good reason! The park is packed with rolling mountains, sweeping vistas, pine forests, vibrant foliage, waterfalls, rivers, streams, wildflowers, and a large diversity of wildlife.
In fact, there are over 17,000 different animal species found in the park, 150 hiking trails covering 800 miles, over 100 waterfalls, and 2000 miles of rivers and streams in the park. With so much natural beauty, its no wonder that it is the most popular national park in the US.
Fun Fact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is named for the “blue smoke” that can linger around the forests and mountaintops. But what causes this “smoke”? The smoke is cause by the abundant plant population, particularly pine trees. In addition to oxygen, pants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which have a high vapor pressure, meaning they can turn to vapor at normal temperatures. These VOCs are responsible for the blue haze ofter found throughout the park.
Mt. LeConte hike overview
Mt. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, behind Clingman’s Dome (the highest peak) and Mt. Guyot (the second highest peak), rising to an elevation of 6,593 feet. Those willing to put in the effort to hike to the summit of Mt. LeConte are rewarded with some of the best views in the park!
At the top of Mt. LeConte lies a small lodge, which sleeps up to 50 people in small huts and includes a central dining hall. The lodge is accessible only by hiking, and supplies must be brought in via helicopter or llama.
Distance | 11 miles
Elevation gain | 2900 feet
Time | 5 – 7 hours
Epic-ness rating | 7
Difficulty | hard
- Find this hike on AllTrails: Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte
How difficult is the Mount LeConte hike?
Mt. LeConte is a challenging hike. There are a few stretches that are quite steep.
This was the last hike we did during our visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and so we started a bit tired already, but for reference, the entire hike took us just under 6 hours, including a detour near the summit and a 30 minute break for lunch.
How to get to the Mt. Leconte trailhead
The Mt. LeConte hike begins at the Alums Cave Bluff trailhead, with limited parking available at the Alum Caves Bluff parking lot. Beware that this parking is very small and fills up quickly. There is space to park along the side of the road just outside of the parking lot, but even these spots start to fill up early.
When we arrived at the trailhead just before 8:00 AM, the parking lot was already full and many people had started parking along the side of the road. At this time, we were still able to find street parking, but by the time we finished the hike even these spots were limited.
You can find exact directions to the trailhead with here.
The hike starts out at a gradual incline following alongside Alum Creek for the first mile. The lush green forest, small waterfalls, and the sound of the babbling stream makes for a very peaceful start to the hike. As you make your way along the trail, you will cross over the creek several times via small wooden footbridges.
At 1.5 miles into the hike, you will reach Arch Rock, a tunnel carved out of the side of the mountain. A set of steep stairs leads you directly up through the tunnel.
Continuing for another mile from Arch Rock, you will reach Inspiration Point, the first break in the trees and your first open view of the surrounding Smoky Mountains. From Inspiration Point you can see Little Duck Hawk Ridge off in the distance.
At 2.5 miles into the hike, you will climb up a long staircase before reaching Alum Cave. Many people finish their hike at Alum Cave, without continuing on to Mt. LeConte, so there are likely to be large crowds here. They are missing out!
We felt that Alum Cave was a bit of a misnomer – it’s more of a high cliff with an overhang than a cave. Cave or not, the views from here are pretty sweet!
Take a moment to rest and have a snack before tackling the rest of the climb to Mt. LeConte!
The final climb
Following Alum Cave, the trail gets steeper and the traffic greatly thins out. For the next two miles, the trail hugs the side of cliff, offering some of the best views of the hike. At 5 miles into the hike, the trail starts to flatten out as you approach Mt. LeConte Lodge.
From this section of the trail, we caught our first glimpse of what gives the Smokies their name – a small hazy patch of clouds hovering just over the mountains.
Mt. LeConte summit
The Mt. LeConte summit is a little tricky to find, so pay close attention once you’ve reached 5 miles. The endpoint is not Mt. LeConte Lodge! Once you reach the Lodge, its not totally clear from the signs where the Mt. LeConte summit is actually located.
Finding the summit
At 5.4 miles into the hike, a small trail branches off to the left. This leads to Mt. LeConte Lodge. To reach the true summit of Mt. LeConte, continue straight for another 0.1 mile. Then take a sharp right onto Cliff Top Trail.
If you passed the Mt. LeConte Lodge, you’ve gone too far. Continue up the steep trail for another 0.2 miles until you reach the peak. At the summit, there is a large pile of rocks perched overlooking the valley and mountains below, serving as a great spot to take a break, have lunch and enjoy this stunning view of the Smoky Mountains.
Mt. LeConte Lodge
If you would like to stay at the Mt. LeConte Lodge, you will need to make reservations in advance here. The Lodge also has a small cafeteria that offers snacks and bagged lunches for hikers. We reached the summit around 11:00 AM, and the cafeteria had not yet opened, so if you are hiking early don’t bank on lunch being available.
The lodge has public restrooms that hikers are permitted to use. However, they are pretty nasty and there was a long line. I would avoid using them unless absolutely necessary.
Cliff Top Trail
Cliff Top Trail is a 0.5 mile loop that connects the Mt. LeConte summit to Mt. LeConte Lodge. If you miss the original turn (as we did), you can take a right just past the Lodge and loop back around to the viewpoint. This adds an extra 0.4 miles to the hike.
We found this trail to be very quiet, and the views equally as stunning, so if you have a little energy left it is be worth taking the loop.
We loved the hike to Mt. LeConte via Alum caves because of the diversity of landscapes and unique landmarks the entire way up. However, there are a few other (even more challenging) routes to Mt. LeConte, which may be preferred if the Alum Cave Trailhead Parking is full.
- Mt. LeConte via Trillium Gap Trail: a little longer and more elevation (12.5 miles, 3200 feet)
- Mt. LeConte via Rainbow Falls Trail: even longer and even more elevation (13 miles, 4000 feet)
Extend the hike to Myrtle Point
One mile from Mt. LeConte is another incredible viewpoint, Myrtle Point. You can extend the hike by a total of 2 miles by continuing from Mt. LeConte to Myrtle Point. We had planned on doing this, but were exhausted at Mt. LeConte after a busy weekend of hiking and decided to call it a day.
Logistics | Planning your Mt. LeConte Hike
When is the best time to hike Mt. LeConte?
Our favorite time to hike in the Smoky Mountains is in the fall (late September – early November), when the leaves turning from green to orange and red paint the rolling mountainside of the Smokies. Spring (late March through May) is also a great time to hike Mt. LeConte. Summer is the hottest and most crowded time of year in the park, and the trail is likely to be snow-covered in the winter.
How to get to the Smoky Mountains
The main entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park is located just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is doable as a long weekend road trip from many places in the southeast United States, including Nashville, Richmond, Asheville, Greenville, and Charlotte.
If you are flying, the closest major airports are in Charlotte or Nashville. A great trip option would be to combine a visit to the Smoky Mountains with a few days in Asheville, a quirky town in North Carolina located about 2 hours from Gatlinburg and close to great hiking, including Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
Camping in Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smoky Mountain National Park offers both frontcountry and backcountry camping options. There are 10 frontcountry campgrounds in the national park for car camping with amenities like restrooms and running water for washing dishes.
Smokemont and Elkmont are the closest campgrounds to the trailhead for the Mt. LeConte hike, located just about a 30 minute drive away.
What to pack for hiking to Mount LeConte
Before you tackle the hike to Mount LeConte, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:
- Hiking poles | I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black Diamond Distance Z poles and haven’t hiked without them since.
- Backpack with bladder | Pack at least 2-3 liters of water. My Camelback Helena is comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down – having a women’s pack that actually fits well makes a huge difference hiking!
- Hiking boots | This is a long hike, and the trail is muddy and slippery in places. Do not try to hike this in tennis shoes. (I can’t recommend my Danner Mountain 600’s enough, Matt loves his Salomon X Ultra 4).
- Hiking pants | these Athleta Headlands pants are my absolute favorite! Plus all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants. Matt’s go to hiking pants are his PrAna Stretch Zion Pants.
- Pullovers | I have two Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zips and I absolutely love them! Warm, comfortable and stylish, they are the perfect base layer for colder hikes. Matt also has the men’s version of the Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zip.
- Long sleeve base layers | Again, I love my Smartwool long sleeve base layers. They’re a bit pricey but the quality is worth it – they’ll last forever!
- Tanks | I’m obsessed with the Athleta Conscious Crop – a sports bra and tank all in one, and so comfortable for hiking!
- Rain jacket | The weather in the Smoky Mountains can be very moody and misty days are common. Pack a jacket to be prepared for unexpected rain.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses | There is no shade for the majority of this hike.
- Trail map downloaded with AllTrail Pro (or other hiking app) | while the majority of the trail is very well marked, having the map downloaded makes navigation easy and gives you some peace of mind.
- Hearty snacks and lunch | Clif bars, peanuts, trail mix, sandwiches – make sure you have enough fuel to get you through the hike.
- Counter Assault Bear Spray | Since there are bears in the area, carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS | The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
If hiking in the winter, early spring, or late fall, you’ll also want to pack the following items:
- Down Jacket | My Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie is lightweight and incredibly warm with 850 fill down. If you hate being cold (like me) this is the jacket for you! The quality is top notch and totally worth the extra warmth.
- Gloves and hats | If hiking in early spring/late fall, the start of the hike will likely be cold.
Other Useful Resources
Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? You may also find these articles useful:
- Smoky Mountains | A Hiker’s Guide to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
- Smoky Mountains | A Complete Guide to Hiking Charlies Bunion in the Smoky Mountains
- Shenandoah | 8 Incredible Hikes near Charlottesville, Virginia
- Virginia | The 9 Best Wineries near Charlottesville
Have you been to the Smoky Mountains? Questions about the Mt. LeConte hike? Let us know in the comments section below!