Making a visit to Leconte Lodge, at the top of Mount Leconte in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, was the reason for this trip. But first some background.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the entire U.S. park system. However, if you make the effort to get out of your car, you can enjoy nature and avoid at least some of the crowds.
We explored the eastern end of the park on this trip. As a warm-up to Mt. LeConte, we hiked the Little River Trail. The first 2.3 miles of the trail is essentially a gravel road, with a gentle incline as it follows the river. Beyond that point, the trail narrows but is still very walkable. The sound of rushing water accompanied us along the way.
Beautiful butterflies were gathering in the mud by the riverbank…
Wildflowers such as these wild geraniums were blooming….
And the weather was perfect. How can you beat that?
The clouds moved in for the afternoon, but we decided to hit another “high” light: Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park and in the state of Tennessee. After walking up a steep half-mile approach path, you end up at the observation tower.
The tower offers 360-degree views, including this view of Mt. LeConte, our highly-anticipated destination for the next morning.
The next morning brought cool temperatures and some wind, fine for hiking. There are several trails up Mt. LeConte. We chose the Alum Cave Trail, the shortest at 5 miles, but also the steepest. The first section follows a stream, with several footbridge crossings.
Farther up the trail, there are views of the surrounding mountains…
Wildflowers, such as this Trillium, were blooming…
Higher still, the conifer forest and moss-covered logs were enchanting…
And then, we were there. LeConte Lodge, our destination for an overnight stay.
As you can see, the “lodge” is really a cluster of rustic cabins dating from the 1920’s.
There is no electricity; light is provided by oil lamps. A spigot for running water is located centrally in the “neighborhood,” and there is a separate bathhouse with toilets. Hearty meals are served in a dining hall. No roads lead to the site, so supplies are brought in by llama train several times a week. We learned that llamas are favored over other pack animals because their hoofs do not tear up the trails. Each llama can carry between 50 and 60 pounds.
We were lucky to be there while they were having lunch and resting before heading back down the mountain. They sure are cute!
The lodge is located a bit below the summit. Several hiking trails can be taken from the lodge to get to the summit and to secluded viewpoints.
We spent the night in a spartan cabin outfitted with double bunk beds and shared with another couple in our group.
After a fitful night’s rest, we awoke to an abrupt change in the weather. Fog, rain and a wind advisory with gusts to 60 mph. These chairs were rocking in the wind.
Preparing for the trail, our camera was safely stowed in a waterproof pack, so no pictures of the hike down. We were happy to make it over the slippery rocks on the trail, soaked but safe, with all kinds of memories that added to the adventure.
So goodbye until next time……….and happy trails!