Mount Leconte has hovered near the top of your hiking bucket list in the Great Smoky Mountains for a long time. The day finally comes and you set out on the rigorous hike up the mountain. You hike for many hours. Cover 10 to 15 miles. You're exhausted from the over 3000 feet elevation gain. Then you finally arrive at the Leconte lodge. The celebration breaks out. You did it! Months, maybe even years of preparation, and you never gave up. You pushed yourself to the limit. You've finally made it. There you stand at the top of the stairs that lead down to the dining hall…. But wait. Where are all those glorious mountain views everyone is always talking about? All those big vista photos you constantly see on Instagram and Facebook are nowhere to be found. You look around and all you see are rustic cabins.
This is an all too common reaction from the first timers to Mt. Leconte. The Lodge is revered as the stopping point of any trek up the highest peak completely in Tennessee. However, if you wish to see the "good stuff," I am afraid to say, you have some more work to do. Well that's where i come in to help you! Cause let's face it, you want your suffering to pay off! The guest lodge is only part of your Mount Leconte journey. So, let's dive right in to the "Top 5 things to see on the Summit of Mt Leconte" :
#5 THE LODGE
Let's start with the obvious, the Mt Leconte Lodge. The lodge was first commissioned in 1925 by Paul Adams prior to the formation of the National Park. The lodge then opened in 1926 with Jack Huff appointedas caretaker. If you are fortunate enough to have reserved one of the 10 cabins, then you have a great opportunity to rest up in your cozy abode before venturing out to explore. If you’re just a day hiker, then there’s 2 places you will want to check out. The dining hall and the office. The dining hall sells day hiker snack packs, coffee, hot chocolate and their famous no bake cookies. (Disclaimer: recently covid has stopped this. Heres hoping they open this back up soon.) The dining hall is also where the date is shown and where you take a selfie to prove you made it!
The Office is where folks go to check in for their stay. However for day hikers it also houses a gift shop and a place to sit down and relax for a bit. They have a great selection of board games and if you're into music a selection of guitars to play and sing. (Same disclaimer as dining hall)
The lodge is easy to find. The lodge sits right at the intersection of rainbow, Trillium and boulvard trails. If you are hiking up Alum, Bullhead, Rainbow, Trillium, or Brushy then you will pass right by it first before any other points of interest on this list. If you're coming up the Boulevard Trail, then you will actually pass by the 3 other points of interest on this list before arriving at the lodge.
#4 HIGH TOP
Can you say you really hiked to Mt. Leconte and without visiting the actual Summit? Known as High Top, it is the highest point on Mt Leconte at 6593’ and the Third highest point inside the Great Smoky Mountains. Why do I have it so low on this list? Well, quite frankly, there's nothing really up there. It is fully protected by trees and not a single view to be had. The only feature at high Top is the ever growing and changing rock pile. Trekkers always like to see if they can make the summit just a little bit taller. We, however, recommend always following leave no trace principles and refrain from moving rocks.
High Top is actually along the Boulevard Trail and approximately 0.3 miles from the Lodge. To get there, walk up the main steps from the lodge dining hall, back to the main trail. Take a left then walk .3 miles until you see the rock pile. You really can't miss it. If you're traveling from the Boulevard trail, you will pass right over it on your way to the lodge.
#3 Apollo Ridge
Ok, now let's get to the good stuff. If you're headed to High Top from the lodge, you will arrive just before it, at a clearing with an outstanding view to the south. Apollo ridge was a name given by the lodge employees in the 60s as they would take the guests out there to watch the Apollo mission launches. This is a breathtaking view and from here you can see Mt Kephart, Clingmans Dome, and Newfound Gap. It is also a good spot for sunrise in the winter.
You can also just make out a point off the ridge line which is home to our next destination.
#2 Myrtle Point
For Sunrise, it doesn’t get much better in the Smokies than Myrtle Point. The rocky outcropping provides a good 200° view of the east and south of the Smoky Mountains. This view is truly breathtaking and is an absolute must-see.
From here, you can see Brushy Mountain, Mt Guyot, Mt Kephart, Charlies Bunion, Parton’s Peak, and Clingmans Dome. Sunrise from Myrtle Point is almost life-changing. Another added bonus, if you are here in May, you might see the Sand Myrtle in bloom which gives this point its name.
Myrtle point is a little more challenging to find. If you're coming from the lodge, then head toward high top (See #4). You will crest over High Top and then at about 0.5 miles from the lodge, you will see a fork in the trail. Somewhat easy to miss, there is a trail sign pointing the way. Take the spur trail on the right at this fork until it dead ends at Myrtle point.
#1 Cliff tops
We have arrived at #1 on our list. It is truly the premier destination in all the Smokies. Cliff Tops!! A giant rocky outcropping named as Sunset Rock and for good reasons. Sunset from here is breathtaking. However, if you're here when the lodge is open, except company as it is a very popular spot.
From Cliff Tops you can see Clingmans Dome, Thunderhead, Chimney Tops, Balsam Point, and even some of Ski Mountain. If I could only have one vista in the Smokies, this one would be it!
Cliff tops is actually the closest to the lodge of all the destinations on this list. To get there from the Dining Hall, walk up the steps to the main trail. Take a right and immediately there will be a trail to the left. Take this trail to the top and turn right. This trail will end on Cliff tops at about 0.3 miles from the lodge.
Well, that's my top 5 things to see on Mt Leconte in the Great Smoky Mountains! I hope you are able to make the hike up there and truly enjoy it, as I have. Thanks for reading.