TO THE TRAILHEAD: There are many places to begin your hike to the summit of Mount LeConte. Each of these trails present you with a different challenge in terrain and mileage. Take the route that best suits your needs and abilities.
Rainbow Falls Trailhead-Take stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg (Historic Nature Trail Road) to where it ends at Cherokee Orchard Road. Just before the road becomes one way, the Rainbow Falls trailhead will be on your right.
Trillium Gap Trailhead-Take stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg (Historic Nature Trail Road) to where it ends at Cherokee Orchard Road. Continue on the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in Winter). The trailhead will be on your right.
Alum Cave Trailhead-Take Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the trailhead 8.8 miles on your left.
Bullhead Trailhead- Take stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg (Historic Nature Trail Road) to where it ends at Cherokee Orchard Road. Just before the road becomes one way, the Rainbow Falls trailhead will be on your right. Start at this trailhead until the Rainbow Falls junction.
Boulevard Trailhead-Take Newfound Gap Road to the top of Newfound Gap. Your hike begins on the Appalachian Trail going towards Charlies Bunion. The Boulevard junction is 2.7 miles from the start of your hike on the left.
Mount LeConte is visible from all over the Smoky Mountains. It rises far above the mountains around it like Goliath. As you can see above, there are many different ways to get there. Your experience and mileage will be determined by the route you decide to go. They all have something different to offer. One thing is alike in each experience, however. They are all difficult, but achievable.
If you are looking for the shortest route to the top, the Alum Cave Trail is for you at 5.5 miles each way. The longest route is via the Boulevard Trail at 8 miles each way. In between, the Trillium Gap Trail is 6.5 miles, Rainbow Falls is 6.6 miles, and the Bullhead Trail is 7.2 miles. The mileage does not tell the whole story, however. The shortest route is not the easiest and the longest route is not the hardest. Figuring elevation gain and loss and terrain, the Trillium Gap is the easiest and the Rainbow Falls trail is the most difficult.
If you seek great landmarks along the way, it gets no better than the Alum Cave Trail with Arch Rock and Alum Cave Bluffs. If you are looking for terrific views, the Boulevard Trail is for you. If it is solitude you seek, the Bullhead Trail will give you plenty of it. Obviously if you like waterfalls, the Rainbow Falls Trail is great as is Trillium Gap Trail with Grotto Falls along the way.
This hike can be done as a day hike or overnight hike. However, if you decide stay overnight, you have only two options; the LeConte Shelter and LeConte Lodge. If you are planning on staying at either of these places, make reservations WELL in advance. The reservations for the shelter are $4.00 per person and you can only stay one night. LeConte Lodge offers much more at a premium price. You get a private cabin with heat, a bed, dinner and breakfast in the dining hall, and bathrooms. At present, the cost is $132 per person/per night.
Sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful from the top of Mount LeConte. Myrtle Point is great for sunrise. Cliff Tops is great for sunset. High Top is the tallest point on Mount LeConte, but offers no views. Be sure to take the short side trips to all three sides of the peak to be able to say that your experience was complete. This hike is especially great to do a “shuttle hike” and have someone pick you up at the trailhead of a different route than you went up. You can vary your scenery and expand your experience by doing this. Be sure to buy your LeConte patch at the Visitors Center when you finish. You will have earned it!