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Trails Illustrated map for the Eastern Smokies. Includes Mt. LeConte, Cataloochee, Big Creek and Clingmans Dome.

Mount LeConte (via Trillium Gap)

Trail Features: Panoramic Views, Waterfalls mt-leconte
Trail Location: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roundtrip Length: 13.9 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 3401 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 489 Feet
Highest Elevation: 6593 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 20.70 (strenuous)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.68037
Parking Lot Longitude -83.46243

Directions to Trailhead:

Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. At 0.7 miles, veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, at which point you'll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you'll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop. Drive 0.9 miles on the loop before turning right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. After driving roughly 1.6 miles on this one-way loop, the parking lot for the Trillium Gap Trail will be on the left side of the road. The trailhead is just beyond the parking area on the opposite side of the road. Due to the extreme popularity of this trail there are additional parking spaces beyond the trailhead. Your best bet is to arrive early during peak visitor seasons.

Trail Description:

grotto-fallsTo reach Mount LeConte you'll be following the Trillium Gap Trail for almost the entire length of your hike. The first section of trail is technically an access trail. At 0.15 mile you'll link up with the Trillium Gap Trail. Continue by going straight at this junction.

The lower portion of the trail meanders through a beautiful old-growth forest, including many large hemlocks. If you happen to be hiking the trail during May you'll have the added benefit of witnessing a smorgasbord of wildflowers during this section, including trillium, white violets, stitchwort, squawcorn and Dutchman's breeches.

For the most part, the trail to your first destination, Grotto Falls, is a gentle climb along a wide, well-worn path.

At 1.3 miles you'll reach Grotto Falls, the only waterfall in the park that a person can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall offers a cool, shady, moist retreat for summer hikers. Similar to the Rainbow Falls Trail, the trail to Grotto Falls can be quite busy during peak seasons, however, beyond the falls, the crowds thin considerably.

As you walk behind the falls you can hear and feel the thunderous power of the water plunging into the pool in front of you. Watch your step here, especially in the winter - the area around the falls is always wet and slick.

To reach Mt. LeConte, continue on beyond the falls.

trillium-gapAt just over 3 miles hikers will reach Trillium Gap (picture on the left) and the junction with the Brushy Mountain Trail. A turn to the left and a short hike of roughly a third-of-a-mile will take you to the summit of Brushy Mountain, a place that offers outstanding views of Mount LeConte and the entire eastern flank of the Great Smoky Mountains. Continuing straight at this junction will lead you down to the Greenbrier area via the Brushy Mountain Trail. To continue on towards the summit of Mount LeConte, turn right at this junction.

Don't be surprised if you run into a pack-train of llamas between Trillium Gap and the summit. This section of trail is traveled three times a week by llamas as they transport supplies to the LeConte Lodge.

At roughly 6.6 miles the trail dead-ends at the Rainbow Falls Trail. Just prior to reaching this junction you'll pass the LeConte Lodge on your right. For many people the Lodge marks the end of the trail; however, to reach the actual summit of LeConte, you'll still need to hike another three-tenths of a mile. Turn left at the junction to continue on towards the summit.

The summit, better known as High Top, will be at 6.9 miles. You'll know you've reached the highest point on Mt. LeConte when you've reached the large cairn just off the main trail on your right.

At 6593 feet Mt. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. However, measured from its immediate base to its highest point, Mt. LeConte can be considered the tallest mountain in the Eastern United States, rising 5301 feet from its base near Gatlinburg.

There is considerable controversy over which member of the LeConte family the mountain was named after. Most people, including the USGS, assume that Joseph LeConte, the famous geologist and charter member of the Sierra Club, is the man for whom the mountain was named. However, that claim has been challenged in recent years. The authors of A Natural History of Mount Le Conte, and the Georgia Encyclopedia, both claim the name honors Joseph's older brother, John, who was famous as a scientist and as president of the University of California, in Berkeley.

Unfortunately you won't have any vistas at High Top. However, there are two places on the mountain that do afford panoramic views.

One is at Myrtle Point. To get to Myrtle Point you'll have to walk another 0.4 miles by continuing along the main trail, which has now turned into the Boulevard Trail. Roughly two-tenths of a mile from High Top, take the fork off the right side of the trail to reach Myrtle Point, which is another two-tenths of a mile from this junction. Myrtle Point provides nearly 360 degree views and is the best location for sunrises on Mt. LeConte.

cliff-topThe other location for outstanding views is known as Cliff Top, which is near the LeConte Lodge. You will have passed two side trails to Cliff Top, on your right, as you made your way up to High Top. Cliff Top is the best location for sunsets.

One of the unique things about the hike up to Mount LeConte is the lodge and overnight cabins near the summit. Hikers have the option of spending the night in the historic cabins which can accommodate about 50 guests a night (you will need reservations well in advance). For more information you can visit the LeConte Lodge website.

The idea for the lodge was created when Paul Adams, an enthusiastic hiker and explorer, led an expedition up the mountain with some dignitaries from Washington to show them the rugged beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, and to help promote the cause for national park status. The group spent the night in a large tent. The following year Adams built a cabin on that same spot, which eventually led to the establishment of the LeConte Lodge. Adams is also credited with helping to blaze the trail from Alum Cave to the summit of Mount LeConte.

In 2011 the Trillium Gap Trail achieved a bit of fame itself. On July 6th of that year, Ashrita Furman became the first person to climb Mt. LeConte on stilts, and in the process, set the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest vertical height walked on stilts. Using peg stilts made of rubber tubing that were 40.5 inches in total height, and 18 inches from the ground to his ankle, Mr. Furman made the 4018-foot climb in 3 hours and 45 minutes. Mr. Furman also holds the record for holding the most Guinness World Records.

Please note that the road to the Grotto Falls trailhead is closed in the winter. However, during the winter months, you can still hike to Mt. LeConte via Trillium Gap by starting your hike from the Trillium Gap Trailhead near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This will add another 3.4 miles to your roundtrip hike.