Staying at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on so many hikers’ bucket list. At 6,360 feet above sea level, it is the highest lodge in the East and a most luxurious place to stay. For the second year in a row, Friends of the Smokies organized a stay at LeConte Lodge. Beyond the hike up and down, Anna and Marielle, the North Carolina FOTS staff, worked on some extra benefits.
Like many Friends of the Smokies hikers, I had gotten to Gatlinburg on Monday evening to get to the meeting point at 8 am the next morning. I spent a while in my motel room packing and repacking what I had packed at home. I discovered that I had been carrying three ballpoint pens and four extra pairs of shoe laces for a while. I took them out of the pack and lightened my load a bit.
We left our cars at the Alum Cave Trailhead and were shuttled by bus to Rainbow Falls, our starting point – first extra benefit. Jennifer Hale, an interpretive park ranger, joined us for the whole trip – second extra benefit. It’s so rare that visitors get to spend that much quality time with rangers in their native habitat.
But still we had to climb about 3,800 feet to LeConte Lodge. No one was going to help us with that.
Rainbow Falls was a great stopping point, where some of us had an early lunch and others just kept climbing. Not too many features beyond the falls – just several wonderful display of turtleheads. So many turtleheads that we stopped photographing them after a while. Were we getting jaded?
We’re so focused on spring wildflowers that we sometimes forget summer and fall flowers. But not on this trip. We also saw yellow jewel weed, cone flowers, grass of parnassus with its green varicose veins, blue gentians and even tiny white Michaux’s saxifrage, stuck in the rocks.
Once at the Lodge, most hikers sat, talked, drank tea and rested. But I needed to check out the sunrise spot at Myrtle Point accompanied by Chuck and Pat- thank you. I didn’t want to stumble in the dark – literally – as we tried to find the sunrise aided only by our flashlights.
On the way, we passed the actual top of the mountain at 6,593 feet. You can’t miss it since there’s a pile of rocks trying to become higher than Clingmans Dome. Good luck with that.
But the weather, though warm and dry, didn’t cooperate. We couldn’t see a good sunset at Clifftops or any sunrise the next morning. Yes, the sun rose, but a solid wall of fog stood between us and the sun.
After breakfast and the obligatory group picture, we walked down Alum Cave Trail, with two Smokies trail gurus, Tobias Miller and Eric Wood. Alum Cave Trail? Isn’t it closed? Hah! Another benefit, which deserves a blog post of its own.
PS Never confuse the photographs with the experience! Twenty-six hikers had a wonderful stay at LeConte Lodge. But somehow I lost some of my pictures! I even pinched Marielle DeJong’s photograph (above) of the group.
PPS If you’re counting miles for your Smokies 100 –
6.7 miles for Rainbow Falls Trail
0.4 mile (roundtrip) on Cliff Tops
1.4 miles (roundtrip) for Myrtle Point
5.0 miles for Alum Cave Trail
for a total of 13.5 miles.