As with most mountains, the terrain starts to feel different when you’re nearing the top. With LeConte, it feels cooler and a bit quieter as your feet pad along pine needle beds instead of rocks and roots. LeConte is the terminus of 6 trails, so make sure you know what trail you are trying to find once you get up there. The actual highest point of LeConte is past the lodge along the Boulevard Trail.
We stopped at the lodge, checked in and made ourselves some lunch before heading out to explore the trails of the top; there’s a couple different spots to explore.
First, we made our way past LeConte Lodge along the Boulevard Trail to the summit of High Point, which is denoted by a rock pyramid. There isn’t a view from the actual point – it’s hidden in trees – but there’s a few spots along the way that will make your jaw drop. This summit is about .4 miles from the lodge. You’ll also pass the LeConte shelter, where you can stay the night if you don’t have a reservation at the lodge (a backcountry permit and reservation is still required in advance.)
There’s also Cliff Tops, which is a great place to watch the sunset if you are staying the night, either at the lodge or in the shelter. I think it’s one of the best views in the Smokies, but I may say that about every view because it’s all just so beautiful. This trail is about .3 miles from the lodge; you’ll see signs for Cliff Tops. There’s almost nothing in this world that makes me happier than those rolling blanket-like blue views of the Appalachian Mountains.
I was so focused on getting the the Lodge as our destination, I completely forgot about what else was going to meet me at the top. If you make the trek, don’t forget to add on a few more tenths of a mile, even if you aren’t staying the night.
As night fell, and we were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of our cabin, the lights of Gatlinburg started illuminating. It was such a strange feeling to feel so remote, yet also see the light-filled town below. I don’t think it “ruined” it, but rather, was just unexpected.
LeConte Lodge itself feels like a little village where everyone seems to just ‘get it’. You do have to climb a mountain to get there, so that automatically weeds out folks who may be, well, those annoying people who don’t know how to act in wild and sacred spaces. (You know who I’m talking about: those people at some campsites who blast their music, car lights and bang on their guitar loudly until all hours of the night. Not quite the experience many people want to have outdoors…) I think LeConte may be a yearly trip for us; it was absolute bliss.
Distance from Nashville: 4 hours
Trailhead: Any trailhead for any trail that gets you up Mt. LeConte
Trail: Cliff Tops and High Point of LeConte summit
Link to trail map: Cliff Tops
Length of Trail: 1.3 miles
Camping: LeConte Lodge Shelter or LeConte Lodge
Overview: Exploration on and around Mt. Leconte for amazing, sweeping views.