The hike up Mt. LeConte to LeConte Lodge has been a tradition in Kyle's family for many years. While I only joined in on the tradition four years ago, it has become one of those events that I look forward to every year. It's a chance to unplug and unwind, get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, be outside, explore, enjoy each other's company and go just a little bit outside of our comfort zones (going to the bathroom in the middle of the night with bears on the loose is scary I tell you). To top it off, watching the sunset over the Great Smoky Mountains from Cliff Tops is, quite simply, magical. We've been a lot of places, seen a lot of sunsets...but Kyle and I both agree, this one still tops them all!
Aside from the view, one of our favorite things about visiting Mt. LeConte is our stay at the Lodge. A stay at LeConte Lodge is something of a legend amongst the East Tennessee hiking world. You must have reservations in order to stay and the formula to obtain one of these highly sought after reservations is far from simple.
Located near the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smokies, the LeConte Lodge sits at 6,360 feet elevation. First opened in 1926, the Lodge itself predates the formation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The only way to reach it is by hiking one of the five trails that lead to the lodge. Supplies are delivered by llama train via the Trillium Gap trail twice a week.
Making a Reservation
Now here's the hard part...
You must email the Lodge at firstname.lastname@example.org on October 1 and list two options of when you want to hike/stay at the Lodge. Weekend reservations and small groups of 2-4 typically sell out first so we have started hiking up on Monday, staying at the Lodge Monday night and hiking back down on Tuesday. If you do not hear back within a week, call! We always hike with a large group of at least 8 so we book an entire cabin. It seems to be much more difficult to get a reservation for a smaller party of 2-4.
Make sure to read through the reservation page and call well in advance if you have specific questions or requests. There is a list of sold out dates as well as a link to sign up for the waitlist.
**If you follow @LeConteLodge on Twitter, they often post last minute cancellations and openings.**
How to Get There
The only way to reach the facility is by taking hiking trails up and back. There are five trails to the lodge and none of these trails can be considered a stroll.
For the hike itself we typically prefer the Alum's Cave Trail. Though it is the steepest, it is also the shortest at 5.5 miles. Takes about 4 hours for those of you in tip-top shape.
The other trails are Rainbow Falls and Trillium Gap, each 6.5 miles, a hike of about five hours; Bullhead at 7.2 miles and about five hours; and Boulevard, 8 miles and about 5 1/2 hours. Parking is available at the start of each trail.
If you are jonesing for a llama siting, try to the Trillium Gap trail. They generally pack on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leaving around 7:30 - 8 a.m.
You can read more about all five trails leading up to the lodge, here.
What to Expect
Meals: Dinner is served at 6:00 pm sharp (the dinner bell will alert you) and breakfast is served at 8:00 am. Evening meal consists of soup, beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, stewed apples, peach half and chocolate chip cookies. Breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, Canadian Bacon, biscuits, pancakes, grits and Tang (yes, Tang). All meals are served with coffee, hot chocolate and water. Alternate evening meals are provided for guests staying more than one night and according to their website they will accommodate most dietary restrictions, with advance notice. A bag lunch is available for day hikers for $11. The evening meal and breakfast are only provided for overnight guests.
Wine: Alongside dinner, you will be served a bottomless glass of your choice of red or white wine. Be warned, this is for one hour only, from 6 to 7 p.m. Drink up!
Water: There are water spigots at the top for you to refill your water bottle, brush your teeth, etc.
Bears: We have seen bears on more than one occasion. Be alert and if you see one, leave them be. In my experience they are scared of the people and usually run away. Its when they don't run away that they become a problem...
Entertainment: There are plenty of games and books in the lodge, along with a fire and new people to talk to. We also enjoy making the short hike to Myrtle Point where you can watch the sunrise in the morning. Of course the main event is sunset at Clifftops! The staff will let you know at dinner what time it will take place.
Bathrooms: There are bathrooms with flushing toilets and toilet paper! Your cabin will have two keys, which you will need to get in. Depending on where your cabin is and how much wine you drink, you may have a short (cold) walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night...this is the scariest part in my opinion. I typically force someone to wake up and go with me and if all else fails, sprint for it and hope I don't bump into a bear on the way!
Sleeping Arrangements: Cabins are booked for groups and separated into a couple rooms with double sized bunk beds. Each room has a propane heater on the wall. Pro-tip: the top bunk is usually roasting hot and the bottom is usually freezing cold. Plan ahead!
Must Haves to Pack
You absolutely must check the weather in advance! No matter if its May, temperatures have been known to drop below freezing at night so pack accordingly. I have never not needed at least 3 layers to watch the sunset at night.
Washcloth or wet wipes
Hiking shoes or boots
Appropriately warm clothes, layers are best
Snacks for the hike up and back down
Water and reusable water bottle
Spirits (the liquid kind)
Cash or credit card for souvenir items
Here are a few of my tried and true favorites!