Mt. Le Conte, 2010m (6593ft)

Mountain area : Smoky Mountains
Location : Tennesse USA
Primary factor: 472m Clingman's Dome
Hiked : Apr 2002
Mt. Le Conte seen from Clingmans Dome

Mt. Le Conte seen
from Clingmans Dome


Mt. Le Conte is the 2nd highest mountain in Tennessee, thus the 2nd highest in the Smoky Mountains after Clingman's Dome and the 6th highest mountain in the eastern U.S after Mt. Mitchell, Mt. Clark, Clingman's Dome, Mt. Guyot and Balsam Cone.

The mountain is accessible through a number of trails, the shortest being a 5,5 mile hike on the Alum Cave trail from highway US 441. A lodge "village" is located just below the summit, so if you hike up in the morning, you are likely to meet a number of hikers coming down. The mountain is also connected to the Appalachian trail via the Boulevard trail, so many A.T hikers stop by the Mt. Le Conte lodge.

Trail descriptions:

Popular trails to Mt. Le Conte are the Bullhead Trail, Rainbow Falls trail, Trillium Gap trail, Brushy Mountain trail, Boulevard trail (connects to the Appalachian trail) and Alum Cave trail. This page will only document the Alum Cave trail.

US highway 441 - Mt. Le Conte on Alum Cave trail (summer)

Difficulty : Strenuous
Risk : Low
Distance : 5,5 miles to summit
Time : 2-4 hours to the top
Starting Elev.: Approx. 1140m (3740ft)
Vertical Gain : Approx. 870m (8530ft)
Resources : Mt. Le Conte lodge site
Resources : Smoky Mountains info service
Resources : Smoky Mountains National Park Service site
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Locate US highway 441 running across the Smoky Mountains between Gatlinburg (Tennessee) and Cherokee (North Carolina). Locate the Alum Cave Bluff trailhead west of the Newfound Gap (the pass over the mountain). The trailhead is approx. 9 miles east of the start Sugarland visitor center. The trailhead is properly marked with a sign.

Although the parking is relatively large, you need to be early on sunny summer week-ends.

The trail:

Locate the bridge running over Pigeon River. Information about the trail can be found at the bridge.

The (well traveled) trail starts off easy, heading north-east up along the Alum Cave creek. When you reach a cave the trail runs through, the trail turns north and the elevation gain is more noticeable.

Below Peregrine Peak, the trail curves south/south-west before the turns north-west towards Alum Cave Bluff. At places, the trail is cut out of the terrain, and the vertical drop may be scary to some. Handhold (wires) have been put up here and there, but I saw no reasons why anyone would use these. Perhaps in winter, when ice make the rocky terrain slippery, the wires could be of some use.

When you reach a large overhang, you're at Alum Cave Bluff. The stone is Anakeesta rock with sulfur content. Alum is the name of a form of sulfur. Locate the sign about the Mt. Le Conte trail and continue upwards.

In a while the trail turns north-east, and you get Mt. Le Conte in view. The trail pretty much ascends the hillside you are seeing. Just below the summit, the trail turns north-west and takes you into the lodge village below the summit. From the lodges, follow signs towards the summit. The summit is marked by a heap of rocks, put in place by hikers.

From the summit, you can either head back the way you came, or continue on the Boulevard Trail (from the summit) and at Mt. Kephart, take the Appalachian trail to Newfound Gap, and follow US 441 down to the Alum Cave trailhead. This extra hike will add at least 11-12 miles to the hike, so you need to be very fit to do this hike.

Trip report Apr 21 2002:

After 14 days (on the job) in Wisconsin, without a single mountain in view, I couldn't get to the Smokies fast enough. I was treating myself with a few days of vacation before I headed back to Norway.

As I landed in Knoxville, I decided to head to Gatlinburg, which would be a great base for hiking in the Smokies. As I left I40 and entered US 441, the amount of traffic astounded me. I thought I was heading into a sleepy area, totally outside any visitor season. As I came to the city of Sevierville, the traffic stopped moving. I assumed it was the ordinary Saturday night traffic jam. I rolled down the window and got some useful info from a guy in the other lane. It turned out to be the "antique-car- roadshow week-end", taking place once in spring and once in autumn, in the town of Pigeon Forge. People came from everywhere. After over an hour in the jam, I decided to turn back when the other guy told me that it probably would take me another hour to get to Gatlinburg. Apparently, these veteran cars were driving around in Pigeon Forge, Around and around. All the time....

So, after a good night's sleep in Sevierville, I headed for the Smokies 07:00AM the next morning, determined to avoid the "terrorists" in Pigeon Forge. I beat them to it, and left the Alum Cave trailhead 08:00AM. It was a cool morning, so I could maintain a good speed. The trailhead info sign suggested a 6-8 hours roundtrip, which I just had to beat. After 45 minutes, I reached Alum Cave Bluff. As I reched 6000 feet, cold winds raged in the hills, and I was glad I brought some extra clothing.

I got to the summit, less than two hours after I left the trailhead. I actually missed the summit at first, and had to go back up. I noticed a pile of rocks that didn't get there by nature. Then I checked the GPS, and the GPS altitude reading was only off by 6 feet. Now, I normally would climb the highest point made by nature. But, I didn't feel like climbing up a tree, so I settled for ground.

The summit was fogged in. I expected it to burn off, and sat down waiting. But after 10 minutes I got impatient and left. All of the fog disappeared 10 minutes after I left, but I didn't bother to go back up. The view was hazy and the views from the trail were good enough. I caught up with most of the hikers coming down from the lodge, as I was going up. When I looked at the enormous backpacks they carried, I better understood the 6-8 hours hiking time suggested by the trailhead info sign. Back at the car, my actual hiking time was 3 hours, 45 minutes. I was going up almost as fast as I was going down.

As I headed into Gatlinburg, I suddenly remembered the rave in Pigeon Forge, and took a long roundtrip through 321 north and 416 north, which took me to Sevierville.


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Alum Cave trailhead parking (284KB) The Alum Cave trailhead (254KB) This is how you cross streams (412KB) Trail running through a cave (307KB) Trail running through a cave (358KB) On the way up to Alum Cave (285KB) View from Alum Cave (240KB) Just below Alum Cave (384KB) Ridge near Alum Cave with Falcon nest (214KB) Alum Cave Bluff (284KB) The trail narrows under Cliff Top (247KB) Mt. Le Conte summit (361KB) Smoke is burning off Mt. Le Conte (145KB) View from Cliff Top (158KB) The trail from Cliff Top to the lodges (376KB) Mt. Le Conte lodges (286KB) Inside the lodge village (185KB) View from the trail (136KB) Mt. Le Conte seen from Alum Cave trail View from the trail (235KB) Gatlinburg (210KB) Mountains above Gatlinburg (303KB)

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