Mt LeConte is an icon in the hiking world and a true treasure to both hike and spend a night. Only accessible by foot, this is a coveted place in the world that intrigues our imagination. This destination meets that desire to travel to a place we can only imagine in movies and film. No electricity, no running water, no insulation, cabins high atop a mountain. With the limited number of dates almost always booked most hikers can only enjoy making the day hiking trip to Mt LeConte. The most popular trail for hiking this excursion in the Smoky Mountains National Park is Alum Cave Trail, a beautiful, steep, 10 mile out-and-back trail to Mt LeConte. There are additional, lesser traveled routes to LeConte besides Alum Cave Trail as well. The Boulevard Trail is one of those hiking trails that will lead you to the summit of LeConte and it’s a real joy. I was able to complete this with some friends for my birthday one year and what a birthday treat it was!
The Hike to Mt LeConte via The Boulevard begins at Newfound Gap parking lot along Highway 441 between Gatlinburg TN and Cherokee NC. In the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park this stopping point has panoramic views and scenic vistas. You will usually find yourself surrounded by a mass of travelers. That will soon change as you begin your hike to Mt LeConte. The first 2.7 miles will travel along the Appalacian Trail, along the spine of the Great Smoky Mountains, and allow you to check that off your bucket list if you haven’t already done so. You will travel past Sweat Heifer trail junction and, in a little less than mile, you will see The Boulevard Trail. Continue onto The Boulevard Trail for brief time until you see a sign for the “Jumpoff”. This is not a requirement but I highly recommend adding this one mile round trip to your itinerary! You can continue on The Boulevard Trail or read the short section about the Jumpoff.
After the alternating ascending and descending so far on the trail, mixed in with the flat woodlands with the Hemlock canopy, get ready for more of the same on a short out and back to the Jumpoff. Begin by heading up the large rocks and drainage areas along the trail, which will feel like a stair stepper! Depending on the time of year you embark on this hike you will catch glimpses of your upcoming views once you reach the top of the ridge. Don’t stop there, dive back into the shady, dense, tree covered canopy and head out to the “point”. You will know when you have reached your destination because, well, there is no where else to go! The Jumpoff is a very large rock formation that is literally the end of the mountain ridge. Enjoy clear panoramic views of Tennessee and the neighboring towns five thousand feet below you. You can also see just how sharp some of the ridges are in the Smokies, especially in the non-foliage months. Disclaimer: If you’re not a huge fan of heights you may not enjoy being on the rock formation itself, however, there are great views to be had just a few yards back from the end point. No shame, I’m one of those people! We also have a full guide to hiking to the Jumpoff as well. It makes for a perfect shorter day of hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park!
The Boulevard Trail
Once you make your way back form the Jumpoff and continue your journey to Mt LeConte on The Boulevard Trail the trail will begin to gradually descend for a little while. There will be lots of loose, flat rocks along this section of trail like most hiking trails in Smoky Mountains National Park, especially on the Tennessee side. The Boulevard Trail is the longest stretch, 5.4 miles, of the hike to reach the Summit of Mt LeConte. Enjoy the journey as you will have a multitude of terrain changes and roughly 1,800 ft of elevation gain from your lowest point on the trail. The final approach to Mt LeConte, the last mile or so, I found to be very unique based on my short time of hiking in the Smoky Mountains. There was a rock face that was very steep off the side of the hiking trail. There has been steel cable and eye bolts drilled into the side of the mountain to assist anyone feeling uncomfortable here. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I needed hold on or like I would slide off the mountain, but it is there if needed for peace of mind. The trail continues on a rather short and steep ascent to the top of Mt LeConte form here before leveling off in another Hemlock covered, thick, forest canopy most likely engulfed in a cloud or rain. This is where you are very likely to see a drastic change in the temperature or weather pattern as well so be prepared for that.
Mt LeConte - Elevation 6,593 ft
Be sure to stop by the main lodge at Mt LeConte and take in the history, views (if there are any that day which will be unlikely) and yes, a break; you deserve it. It’s a great place to stop before heading down to the Bluffs at Alum Cave and your final stretch of trail. They do offer a few snack items and such if for some reason you forgot something. Everything here, including supplies, food, etc is brought in by mule so options are limited. Take it all in, take a good break, have a seat on the rocking chairs or inside in the warmth of the lodge, and then head back out to complete the journey on another spectacular section of trail!
Alum Cave Trail
The final section of trail will take you from Mt LeConte to the ever crowded Alum Cave Bluff parking lot along Highway 441. The Alum Cave Bluffs are without a doubt one of the most popular natural attractions and best hikes in Smoky Mountains National Park. You will notice the trail will be much more crowded, especially after about 2 miles of descent form Mt LeConte where you will enter the “Bluffs” area. If you’re like me, I most certainly feel as though rapid descents are much harder on the knees and ankles, but I will say you will be happy you are traveling in the opposite direction of most of the hikers at this point. The Bluffs are a very interesting geological feature and just an awesome sight to take in. The nearby ridges and peaks are also very jagged and steep just like the five thousand foot rapid descent you are on! As you approach the end, legs and knees screaming at you, be sure to take in all the large boulders and crystal clear water in the stream which will accompany you all the way out. It’s some of the clearest water I have personally seen on any trail in the National Park, which is saying something. Be sure to check out our hike details and tips section below before heading out. Also, if you’re interested in meeting new people to hike with or have a group you would like to bring along, this hike is on our list of Hiking Retreats that we offer at The Hive Lodge. Enjoy this hike; it’s amazing!
Details and Tips
This hike will require multiple vehicles to shuttle you a few miles from your beginning and end point. As with any hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains, be prepared for drastic temperature changes even in the warmer months.
Beginning Point: Newfound Gap Parking Lot
End Point: Alum Cave Trailhead Parking Lot
Total Miles: 14
Trails and Interesting Points:
Appalacian Trail - 2.7 miles
The Jumpoff - 1 mile out and back
The Boulevard Trail - 5.4 miles
Alum Cave Trail - 5 miles