Mt. LeConte is one of the popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains.
There are 6 major trails that will take you to the summit. But today we are taking you up via the easiest and most scenic route; Alum Cave Trail. But don’t be fooled when we say easiest, this hike is still a very strenuous lung burner. It is 10 miles round trip to the Lodge, 11 miles round trip to Cliff Tops, and 12 miles round trip to Myrtle point. The hike will gain 2763 feet in elevation. However the Alum Cave Trail is simply an amazingly breathtaking trail and is considered to be the most scenic trail in the Smokies. Along the way you will follow Alum Creek, Walk through a hole in the rock called Arch Rock, sit under Alum Cave Bluff and have big views of the Chimney Tops and the west prong of the Little pigeon river Gorge. We recommend hiking the trail in early September as during this time there is a rare wild flower that blooms up top called the Grass of Parnassus. Mt Leconte is one of only a couple places in the US where this flower can be found. The Alum Cave Trail has it all and is giving the Up N’ Adam Adventures award as the #1 trail in the Smokies.
The Trail begins by crossing 2 foot bridges across Walker Camp prong and Alum Cave Creek. During the first mile, the trail is moderately uphill and follows Alum Cave Creek. At 1 mile Alum Creek veers off to the right and you are now following Styx Branch. You probably won’t even notice this transition. Styx Brach is the runoff from the high valley known as Huggins Hell.
At 1.4 Miles you arrive at your first major feature along the Trail; Arch Rock. Arch Rock is a giant hole in the rock just on the other side of Styx Branch. You will cross a footbridge at the base and a series of steps lead you up thru the center of the hole. From this point on the Trail gets much steeper and stays that way thru most of the hike, At about 2.0 miles you will arrive at your first big views at a place called Inspiration point. From Inspiration point you will get views of Little Duck hawk ridge where if you look close you will see the famous eye of the needle. A six foot tall hole in the top of the peak. In late May this area is alive If you look back down toward the trail you will see 2 prominent peaks that are locally named as Partons Peaks. Named after Dolly Parton’s……well you know. Just 3/10 mile past Inspiration point you arrive at the feature that Gives the trail its Name Alum Cave Bluff.
For the next 2/10th of a mile you will climb some steep stairs with cables for support. On your left you will be rewarded with a view of the Chimney Tops. At 2.5 miles (exactly half way) you arrive at Gracie’s Pulpit. A rocky point which is in our opinion a better place to take a break than the bluffs. From Gracie’s Pulpit you will get the one and only break from the climb as you descend down “The Saddle” and at 2.7 mile you start our least favorite spot of the Trail; The monotonous mile. The mile section is steep with very little change in views along the way. At 3.7 miles you arrive at the switch back stairs and go back to the otherside of the ridge.
From here the trail is steep and rocky but the views are outstanding. You will pass Rooty, the Pencil Tree, The Scar, and finally the Shelf. The Shelf is one of the most iconic photo op spots on this trail so be sure to snag a pic. Just about 80ft past the shelf you finally reach Hallwuhluah turn. This signifies the last of the uphill climb until you reach the Leconte Lodge. From here it is just 1/4mile of easy flat hiking thru what is locally called the Enchanted forest.
Congratulations you have finally made it to the leconte lodge. But wait..you’re probably thinking where the heck are all the views. Well your work is not over yet. From here you have 2 real options for views; Myrtle point and cliff tops.
Cliff tops is the easiest to get to. There is a spur trail just across the main trail from the lodge that will take you there. It is 3/10th of a mile but very steep. This however is an absolute must if you have climbed leconte. The views from cliff tops are the best in the park. From here you can see Clingmans dome, The chimneys, newfound gap, pigeon forge, gatlinburg and even knoxville.
Your other option for views is to continue on straight past the long on the main trail for .75miles there is another spur trail that will lead you out to myrtle point. You will also pass high top at ½ mile which is the actual Mt Leconte Summit. You will know this place by the large rock stake where people have attempted to make the mountain just a little bit higher.
Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park remains free to the public. But, as of March 1st, 2023 parking passes are required for stops longer than 15 minutes inside the park. Please follow the link below for all the latest information from the National Park Service on where to purchase parking passes, and pricing.