Led by Llamas: My Stay at Mount LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Updated: Sep 20
This article is based on my own experiences with Mount LeConte Lodge. Everyone's experiences may differ based on company, season, expectations, etc.
In This Article:
Located in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Mount LeConte Lodge sits atop, go figure, Mount LeConte. There are six trails that can be taken to the lodge (Alum Cave Trail, Boulevard Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Bullhead Trail, and Brushy Mountain Trail). I have hiked two of them: Rainbow Falls and Alum Cave -- they are described in detail below. Hikers are able to stay overnight at the lodge in rustic cabins with no AC, no electricity, and no showers; there are flushable toilets available for the guests. Perhaps the most exciting part, all supplies are brought up three times a week by a team of llamas!
Late in the year of 2022 I was fortunate enough to snag a permit for a stay at the Lodge for the start of the season in 2023. I was excited to make the trip with my family since Great Smoky Mountain is one of my favorite places to hike. After a lot of research, we decided that we would hike up to the lodge via Rainbow Falls Trail and hike down the next day via Alum Cave Trail. Read on for cost amenities, dining menu, and trail experience.
The total cost of our one-night stay for four adults was $773.64 (this includes taxes and fees). Included in this cost is our dinner the night we arrive, breakfast the morning we depart, and our lodging. Not included is a parking pass, if you aren't paying for a shuttle or getting dropped off / picked up, then you will need to purchase an overnight pass.
The lodge is fairly rustic with no electricity or running water in the cabins. The cabins vary in size based on the number in your party, but we stayed in a one room cabin with double beds stacked as bunk beds plus a cot, and a covered porch with rocking chairs.
What is provided in the cabin:
• Kerosene lanterns for light
• Propane heaters for heat
• Wash basin and bucket to take a sponge bath
• Linens (sheets, blankets, pillows, and pillowcases)
• Table and chair
• Pegs for backpacks
Our stay was at the end of March, the first week the lodge opened for the season, and even though it was cold, windy, and raining outside, we were toasty warm under the wool blankets -- we had the heater on low for most of the night.
The meals were all served family style with multiple cabins eating together. It was a great experience getting to share a meal with other travelers. The food was a far cry from fine dining but hit the spot after a long day of hiking! Once you're checked in there is open access to hot chocolate, coffee, water, and lemonade, but the dinner was served promptly at 6:00pm and breakfast 8:00am. Note: wine could be added to dinner, but our group did not exercise this option.
For dinner we had:
• Beef and gravy
• Mashed potatoes
• Green beans
• Stewed apples
• Peach half
• Chocolate chip cookies
For breakfast we had:
• Scrambled eggs
• Canadian Bacon
Activities and Trails:
Due to our varying degrees of fitness and wide range of ages, our group decided to take Rainbow Falls trail to the top. In order to avoid leaving a car overnight, we were dropped off and started on the trail at 7:30am. Our total time on the trail was 5.5 hours to travel 7.25 miles. There are shorter trails to get to the top, but since this was our only plan for the day we didn't mind if it took us a little longer to get there. This trail was definitely challenging, but not as difficult as coming up the Alum Cave Trail.
Once at the top we checked in at the lodge gift shop, got settled, met the other campers, and had dinner. The staff at the lodge recommended we go Cliff Top for sunset, and they were not wrong. We got there early to get a good spot and even though it was cold, it was unbelievably worth it. The sun sets directly in front of you, offering a view of all the colors the Smokies can offer. We stayed until the sun was fully set and descended with our headlamps.
Overnight, bad weather rolled through with heavy winds and rains. At breakfast the next morning the staff informed us that some of the roads were closed, including the road that led to Alum Cave Trailhead where we were anticipating being picked up. After some discussion, we decided to not change our plans and take Alum Cave Trail down -- even though we had no service to get a call out to our ride.
Alum Cave Trail was absolutely beautiful, but not a great fit if you have mobility issues. It's a steep hike with several stairs and rocky areas that get slick when wet. Our descent took 3 hours to travel 5.5 miles. Once at the bottom, our concerns became a reality...the road had not reopened as we had hoped. We were over 9 miles from the base of the mountain with no cell phone signal and few options to get back down. There were less than 5 cars in the parking lot, all fellow lodge guests, but we had no way of knowing when they would get to the parking lot or if they would even be willing to give us a ride. Luckily, Lindon W. and his grandson came down the trail shortly after us. They were gracious enough to give us a ride back into town. He delighted us with stories of how they measure trees in hugs, with his grandson proudly declaring they had seen, "a few 5-huggers," out on the trail.
Overall, the experience was phenomenal, and I highly recommend it, but advise that everyone does their own research into which trail best suits their needs. Mount LeConte Lodge offers the opportunity to sleep in the park, but not have to rough if it as much as being in the backcountry. If you make it to the lodge, either on a hike or for a stay, make sure to pick up that year's "I Hiked It!" shirt only available for sale at the lodge.