Mt LeConte is one of Tennessee's most famous summits. This is mainly because it is the only 6,000 footer to be entirely within the state. In addition, staying in the LeConte Lodge is considered a classic Tennessee adventure.
Back in the Great Smokies!
Day: 16
Miles: 2,650

We're at the halfway point for this grand roadtrip! We are 13 states in and some 20 adventures. It is so nice to be finally exploring the south as an adult. I've lived here before as a child and have the fondest memories. However I've been mostly in the west and New England since becoming an adult. I've never been to most of these places but they still evoke memories of boy scout and family trips to similar areas. For that reason, I think I'm enjoying this road trip more than ever!

Today's destination was Mt LeConte. Taller and grander summits exist in the area but I couldn't pass through without climbing Tennessee's highest summit. Clingmans Dome is higher but it is shared with North Carolina. Some consider LeConte to be the de facto high point of the state. I couldn't miss it.

Google seems to have detailed the trails in the area already but here is my map-

View Mt LeConte via Alum Cave Trail in a larger map

This is the most popular route up the mountain due to the natural scenery and the abundance of views. I'd recommend hitting the trail early to avoid traffic jams at the parking lot and on the trail.

Starting at an elevation of about 3,800', the trail begins a deceptively easy ascent up the valley of Alum Cave Creek. This is a delightful section that is well sheltered by rhododendron and hardwood forests. I imagine many a hiker has started off thinking the whole trail would be this way. The easy part abruptly ends at Arch Rock, 1.3 miles in. The Arch Rock is a true arch and the trail winds right below it and starts gaining elevation considerably.
The trail starts off easily enough!
The trail hugs the mountainside and has abundant water sources. I was able to save on pack weight by bringing less water and simply filtering water as I needed it. At about 2.3 miles in to the trail, the Alum Cave can be seen. It is not a true cave but instead a gigantic overhanging rock which creates a very secluded part of the trail. I could see why so many people wanted to hike this trail; the natural features were wonderful!

From here, the trail climbs another 2.7 miles and this is where the bulk of the elevation is gained. I wouldn't say it was difficult compared to anything else in the area but many hikers found this part to be unenjoyable. I thought that it was great because the trail was cut right into the rocks in some sections which allowed for some precipitous overlooks!
Lighting was tricky but you get the idea about the "cave"
At the "top" of the Alum Cave Trail, the Lodge is just 0.1 miles beyond and many chose to make an overnight trip out of it. I'm sure the sunrises here are to die for! For the day hiker, this means the summit is about 0.3-0.4 miles further. There is an optional trail to "LeConte Cliffs" which shouldn't be missed seeing as the summit has no views. To preserve the wilderness quality of the area, the summit has only a cairn and no other marking to denote its elevation. I found this to be fitting. Rare high elevation spruce forests were as good as a view for me. The cliffs area wasn't too far away either and the fog socked in any chance of a view today.
*potential* for good views!
The trail hugged the mountainside, barely
I would have liked to have stayed at the lodge. Sure, that is a little cosmo compared to my usual backcountry accommodations but it would be glorious to wake up to a sunrise at 6,500'. It isn't often that you can do that here in the Smokies unless you're on the AT! 

Tomorrow I would be climbing Clingmans Dome. It was a good warm up!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!