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  • Robert Loewendick

Hiking the Smokies - Mt. LeConte


After dozens of trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I finally stood on the summit of Mt. LeConte. Hiking the Smokies has been a favorite on the family’s adventure list for decades. The old mountain range sits within an eight-hour drive from my home, well within range on a three-day excursion.

My wife Linda and I, trekked the 5.5 miles from the trailhead on Newfound Gap Road to the tip top of Mt. LeConte on the middle day of this Smoky visit. Eleven miles roundtrip. The hike up and back on Alum Cave Trail, the shortest, but most challenging route to the mountain’s peak, earned the title of “our favorite Smokies hike”. The hike provides a diverse look and feel of the heart of the Smokies. Beautiful mountain streams – check. Rock formations – check. Views of the mountain ranges – check. Wildflowers – check. High elevation fir and spruce forest – check. Bear – check. Yep, a great hike that I’ll do again and probably again.

Near the mountain top sits a collection of log and lumber structures that is the LeConte Lodge. Reservations to spend the night in one of the cabins and to be served meals from the rustic dining hall, are tough to get. A lottery system is in place for those wanting to experience the overnight mountain retreat. Lucky guests enter the lottery a year in advance. Day hikers are welcome to have lunch at the dining hall from 12 to 4 in the afternoon. Sack lunches are available for $11 each.

The trail is well maintained but still requires a bit of physical effort to reach the top and return to the trailhead in a day. An average hiker can do the roundtrip in about eight hours, including a break for lunch at the top and the multiple opportunities that demand photo and video grabs.

There are three highlights that stand out as markers on this trail. The first is Arch Rock at about 1.3 miles and the river-side walk and trail is easy. The second is the trail’s name sake, Alum Cave Bluffs close to the 2.2 mile mark. The trail section from Arch Rock to the cave is much more demanding than the first section. Steep and steps await those climbing to the cave. From the cave to the lodge is also steep and a few points along the trail, hikers walk on ledges chiseled into the side of rock cliffs. Not tip-toeing type ledge, but a couple feet wide and a cable anchored to the rock face to use as a hand hold if needed.

Truly a great day hike worth any and all efforts to experience the trail – whether to the top of the mountain or just part way. I agree with the line often spoken among the hiking and backpacking community – "Hike your own hike."

Regarding our hike to the top of Mt. LeConte, you can watch a 20-minute video on the Adventures Found YouTube channel. Simply place Adventures Found in the YouTube search bar, or click on the YouTube icon on this blog’s home page.

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