At 6,643 feet, Mount LeConte is a staggering mountain. It is the highest mountain entirely within Tennessee and the third highest in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has a 5,300-foot prominence measuring from Gatlinburg, and hosts the East Coast's highest public inn. There is controversy around which LeConte the mountain was named for, either Joseph or his older brother John, but what is known for sure is how the mountain helped the park come to fruition.
Not much activity occurred in the Smokies until Paul Adams moved to Knoxville. Hiker and explorer, Adams spent much of his time in what is now Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In 1924 he joined the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association and led an expedition up the mountain with dignitaries from Washington. The group spent the night on the site that would eventually be LeConte Lodge, and 10 years later the national park was born.
There are many ways up the mountain, probably the most popular of which is the Alum Cave Trail. If you are staying at the shelter, this fills up almost immediately every Saturday night as soon as it’s available to reserve (2:00 a.m. EST 30 days before date in question); please be advised and set your alarm to secure your reservation.
This adventure begins at Trillium Gap Trailhead and passes by two unique points of interest on the way up. Grotto Falls is a small falls along the trail that allows the hiker to walk behind and underneath the falls, and Brushy Mountain is a short 0.3-mile spur trail to a nice viewpoint to the northeast. After making it up to the lodge, take advantage of the pre-treated water and restrooms before heading over to the shelter.
Definitely check out the sunset at the Clifftops overlook, about half a mile from the shelter. Myrtle Point is the place to see the sunrise, and it is about the same distance in the other direction. Signage is good at the top, so don’t worry about getting lost. The summit itself has a rock pile, but no view, so check out the two previously mentioned overlooks for the best pictures.
In the morning, after you start on the Boulevard Trail, use the cables as necessary if you’re afraid of heights, as there are a few steep sections next to the trail. After a lot of up and down, you’ll finally make it to the intersection with the Appalaachian Trail. If the weather is good, take the short spur trail to the Jumpoff overlook; it is well worth the effort. Follow the AT all the way back to Newfound Gap to finish out the hike.