Overnight on Mt LeConte

This past Saturday (5.19.12) Gizmo Joe, Troy, (my son) Matthew/Twig, (my nephew) Brandon/Tree and myself all headed up to Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an overnight getaway! And no, we did not spend the night at the Mt. LeConte Lodge, but instead stayed 0.2 miles farther down the trail at the Mt. LeConte shelter.

There are a number of trails that one can take to reach the top of Mt. LeConte, but we opted to go the shortest route, Alum Cave Trail. But, just because it is the shortest trail doesn’t mean that is was a cake walk… The Alum Cave Trail begins around 3,800 ft and climbs around 2,500 ft in elevation to around 6,300 ft! And every bit of this incline takes place in its quick, 5 mile hike up… However, Alum Cave Trail is a beautiful trail with lots of interesting points along the way…

We began our hike around 9 am. My son and I had previously been up this trail, so we knew what to expect (even though a lot of it was again new to my son…) however, this was the rest of the crew’s first trip up! As well, this was my nephew’s first backpacking trip, so I was quite excited to be able to share this adventure with both family and friends, and on such a wonderful trail…

We let the boys lead the way and to be the pace setters. They each carried their own packs with all of their supplies except food (which I carried for them). They were excited and full of energy, so we moved along pretty well. We met quite a number of people on the trail, most going up at this point. Many were hiking up to either stay at the lodge, or to just hike up to see the lodge and then back down the same day.

The first mile and a half or so of the trail zigzags over an inviting creek which the trail follows. There are log bridges set up along the way to make crossing the stream quite easy.

At a little over a mile in, we came to Arch Rock. There is a log bridge that crosses the creek and then the trail dead ends at a cliff wall. To continue on, one must look to their left and climb up the stairs that have been carved into and through a large rock. This is always a fun spot to come to on the trail…especially for the young ones since they think it is so awesome…(ok, and us adults think so too…  🙂 )

Not too much past Arch rock, the trail crosses its last log bridge and leads away from the large creek that we had been following up to this point.

Then, around 2 miles in we climb up Peregrine Peak, and to Inspiration Point. Here, the trail climbs out of a “green tunnel” and comes to a rocky point that juts out. One of the first breath-taking, expansive views is here at this point (hence the name “Inspiration point). Continuing on, the trail cuts back up to the right and quickly leads to approximately the half way point of the trail, Alum Cave Bluffs, which is where the trail obviously get’s its name from.

The Bluffs are huge, and despite the humid, wet conditions that surround the Smokies, the ground consists of a very fine, powdery dust! This is a “stop and relax for a minute (or more) spot” for most that come through this area, and we did just that. We climbed the very steep embankment that led up to the Bluffs and unshouldered our packs. Then we dug a snack from our packs and munched on them with a deep satisfaction as we watched the many people come and go…

After our snack we again shouldered our packs and continued up the trail. From this point, the trail became a little steeper, as well as more “thrilling!” As the trail led up, we came across a couple of sections of the trail that cross an open, heavily sloped rock wall with a trail worn across it. We are careful to hold onto the cables that are along the open areas to keep from slipping on the slippery rocks, down into a deep descent…

Another memorable area before reaching the top of Mt. LeConte is a short, steep section where a long log is laid on the ground and the steps are carved into it. There is a side rail built onto the log as well to help steady ourselves while hiking up this area. Also, farther along the trail, we came to a few more open views that allowed us to see just how beautiful our surroundings truly were…

Then all of a sudden, we turn at a fairly hard angle to the right and the trees look like they have taken a beaten, at least the ones that are still standing do…but this area also marks the end of the trail. Just a short ways through this abused looking area we came to the Rainbow Falls Trail Junction, at which point we turned right and continued on just a short little way…

The Mt. LeConte Lodge is on the left, just a few hundred yards down the Rainbow Falls Trail. As well, a short trail leading up to Cliff Tops is to the right, which is where everyone typically goes for a relaxing sunset…

Even though we were not staying at the lodge, we headed left so that everyone could check out the famous lodge. After a quick look-see though, we continued back down the trail to claim our spot in the Mt. LeConte shelter, 0.2 tenths of a mile farther down the trail…

As soon as we got there everyone peeled their packs off for the last time of the day. The boys ran and explored while the rest of us began to unpack and set up our home for the night…

We all claimed the top level of the shelter, filling 5 of the 6 spots. Gizmo Joe and Troy got busy making their beds and I got busy setting up the boys’ spots, as well as mine. After we had gotten our gear unpacked and situated we sat down to just enjoy the moment… however, it wasn’t too long before the boys were starting to get bored and tired…

At this point, we decided to hike the short 0.3 miles down the trail to check out Cliff Tops. Gizmo Joe decided to stick around the shelter since no one else was there and our food and smellables were not hanging yet. So, me, Troy, Matthew and Brandon headed down…err, up to Cliff Tops…

After hanging out at Cliff Tops for a bit we decided to head back to the shelter. Once we got  back to the shelter and get our food sorted out and ready for the night. We had already went back and collected our water from the pump at the lodge so we were ready to go! Then around 4:30 we began to boil our water to prepare our meals. After eating and cleaning everything up we then bagged all of our smellables and hung them from the bear line!

After everything was put away, Matthew and I ventured further up the trail to the summit of Mt LeConte. Along the way Matthew found a heart-shaped rock that he picked up and decided to carry back out to give to his little sister…  🙂

Then a little farther up the trail we came to the summit of Mt. LeConte, 6,593 ft up! There is a huge cairn that is built at the summit and the last time I had been through it was built up pretty tall. This time though, many of the rocks had either fell down or been pushed down. Regardless, Matthew decided he would help to rebuild it…

Once we were done here we headed back down to the shelter to meet back up with the rest of the group. The clouds had cleared out and we were hoping to catch a good sunset at Cliff Tops. So, once we got back to the shelter, we all hiked back down to Cliff Tops to wait for the sunset…

As the sun began to sink down lower, people started to pile in that were staying at the lodge. Before we knew it, the little rocky outcrop was speckled with people. However, as we sat there, the clouds began to roll in and steal away any chance of watching the sun as it fell behind the mountains. So, as it began to get cooler our little group decided to head back to the shelter to get cleaned up, have some hot cocoa and to snuggle into our beds for the night.

When we arrived back at the shelter we noticed that 4 others had popped in and taken some of the spots on the lower bunk.

So, I got the boys to change into their sleeping clothes and I boiled some water for hot cocoa. Matthew cleaned up and removed his contacts (he did so good too! I am proud of him). Then Matthew and Brandon sipped hot cocoa while lying/sitting in their sleeping bags (but carefully so that they didn’t spill any).

After getting everything cleaned up and hung back out on the bear cables for the night, I myself crawled into my cozy bed. The temperatures were just around 50 F so it made it nice to snuggle into my downy sleeping bag (although I will admit, even though the temps dropped to around mid 40’s, I did end up getting a little hot later…)

The next morning we awoke and went through the routine. Unscrew the valve on the air pad and lay flat until most of the air had escaped out through the valve. Then get up and change back into my hiking clothes and go out to retrieve the food bag. I came back and began boiling lots of water for hot cocoa for the boys and coffee for myself. Breakfast consisted of Pop-Tarts.

Once we had all gotten up, brushed our teeth and had our breakfast, came the task of packing back up and to get ready to head back down the same trail we hike up the day before to meet our rides. The 4 individuals whom had come in the night before never popped their head out of their bags the entire time we went through our morning routine.

After we got our packs back on, but before we headed back out, we posed for one last group shot in front of the shelter…

The hike back down was naturally a bit faster than the hike up. As well, I always found that hiking down this trail really gave me some respect as to the steepness when hiking up it.

Anyway, on the hike back down we kept leap frogging a few large groups that had also left the lodge around the same time as us. And of course, we stopped at a few places along the way to say good-bye for now, but to tell the mountains that we will be back…one day…

Until then though, here are some videos from the hike…

As well, for more pictures from the hike, click HERE.

Thanks for reading!


About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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23 Responses to Overnight on Mt LeConte

  1. diego says:

    Amazing post! Quick question, I know you have to make reservations for the lodge but what about for the shelter? Or is it first come first serve? Thank you in advance!


    • Stick says:


      You still have to make reservations for the shelter. You must go through the Great Smoky Mtn NPS sight to do this. You can make them 30 days out, and I would suggest to do it 30 days out. They fill up very fast!



    • diego says:

      Great man thanks for the tip!


  2. Jason says:

    very nice place ! and i like your youtube link very much whiich show how it look in LeConte ! And Troy is very fit as he keep smoking n hiking at the same time lol !! Does legally can smoke in the trail? in HK this is illegal to smoke in the country side, but there are no officer to catch you too hahaha!!


    • Stick says:

      Thanks Jason, I appreciate the kind words!

      As far as Mt LeConte, this is the mountain that actually drew me into hiking back in 2009…before this mountain, I never gave a thought to backpacking. Now I have been up to the top 4 or 5 times, and have been able to bring my son with me on 2 of those trips! I will admit, it is a busy mountain, but it is still a great place IMO.

      Troy… 🙂 I am not sure if it is illegal to smoke on the trails through the park, but there were a lot of other people doing it too… so I figure it wasn’t.

      Thanks for stopping by!



  3. DaveC says:

    Nice write-up. I have very fond memories of backpacking on Leconte with my dad and grandpa when I was little.


    • Stick says:

      Thanks Dave for stopping by and commenting. Also, I hope that I am giving both my son and my nephews those same kinds of memories. And this was my son’s second trip up LeConte so that is cool… I hope he gets to go many more times…



  4. John C says:

    Good job Stick. I enjoyed the story of your adventure. I am from Sacramento California and hike and backpack the foothill and mountains around here, but I didn’t know much about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Beautiful Place. Thanks for showing me your neck of the woods. BTW,not getting any sound on your second video. Its not my computer because I got sound on the first one.


    • Stick says:


      Thanks for checking out our trip report! I love the Smokies, and wished I lived closer so that I could visit them more often…if you are ever out this way I highly suggest stopping for a little hike in them…

      Also, I would love to get out west sometime and do some hiking…I really want to do the Wonderland Trail but wouldn’t mind getting down towards the Sierra’s as well…

      Anyway, I checked the videos and they both have sound on my end. I checked them on my blog as well as on the YouTube site and they worked. Not sure what is going on, but I will keep an eye on it. Thanks for the heads up.



  5. davidbyrge says:

    Chad, the link to the photos seems to be broken.


  6. Sonoma says:

    Nice. Looks fun.


    • Stick says:

      Thanks Sonoma!


    • Sonoma says:

      Actually thinking of doing/planning this trip this July. My son like’s Big Hill Pond but he is super excited about this.


    • Stick says:


      I highly recommend this hike! It is a beautiful trail and I think that you and your son would enjoy this trail. I would just recommend to figure out the day/night that you want to hike up and stay, then calculate 30 days prior to that day. On that day, start calling early to make your reservations. These spots on top of LeConte can fill up fast…

      Good luck and happy hiking! And thanks for reading…



    • Sonoma says:

      Yep. Set up and ready to go. I think the only thing I dread is the 7-8 hour drive but all worth it I am sure. Thanks again for the video.


    • Stick says:

      Sounds awesome! I hope that you have a great time! I will admit, the drive is not the best part of the trip, and the trip home feels twice as long as the trip there… Anyway, hope that you enjoy the hike! 🙂



  7. Nathan says:

    Great Report. Even though it was just an overnighter, it sounded like it was just the kind of trip to rejuvenate the soul.


  8. Jim Henegar says:

    Sounded like a wonderful trip. We are camping at the state park all week, just jumped on right quick when I came by the house. I have to catch the video’s later. How many ticks did you collect? I have been at the park for a couple days, and have already gotten12 off me. Goin to have to order some of that stuff and treat some clothes.


    • Stick says:


      It was a great trip! And it sounds like you have a very relaxing week planned out!

      As far as ticks, I am happy to report that I never found the first one! i don’t know if it is because the Permethrin worked that good, or if there weren’t many in that area though…

      Have a great week!



  9. Gizmo Joe says:

    Awesome post!!! I cant wait until next month!!!


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