In 2014, over 10 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it the most visited park in the national park system. Since the park's formation in 1934, it has served as one of the largest protected reserves in the Eastern United States. LeConte Lodge and Mt. LeConte are one of the most popular backcountry destinations in all of the Smokies and draw thousands of hikers every year.
However, there was a time when the formation of a national park in the Southern Appalachians would ever come to pass.
In fact, the early supporters of creating a national park in the Smoky Mountains were few in number and logging companies owned much vast tracts of forest in the region. It can be argued that without the LeConte Lodge, there may have never been a national park at all.
It's also possible that without the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg would have never become a major travel destination. If you've ever enjoyed a fantastic log cabin vacation in Gatlinburg, you can thank a group of visionaries who had the somewhat crazy idea to build a cabin in one of the roughest wildernesses in the United States.
LeConte Lodge History
The lodge on Mt. LeConte was hugely important in the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains. Many influential people stayed at this lodge prior to the formation of a national park. With every visitor who witnessed the awesome views from Mt. LeConte, the idea of establishing a national park to protect this beautiful landscape gained traction.
If the credit for the establishment of a national park in the Smokies is in part due to LeConte Lodge, then we have one man to thank for the idea to build a lodge on top of one of the highest peaks in the Smokies.
Paul Adams was an avid outdoorsman and supporter of protecting the Great Smoky Mountains. He would often bushwhack for days in the wild terrain of the Smokies. 1925, Adams and a band of hikers built the first permanent cabin on top of Mt. Leconte for the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association.
In 1926, Jack Huff began to manage the lodge. Over the years, the lodge expanded and hosted even more hikers. From Washington dignitaries to local conservationists, thousands of early park supporters made the trip to LeConte to witness the beauty of this mountain peak. Once the national park was established, the lodge continued to act as a concession in the national park.
The Lodge Today
To this day, the lodge operates from spring to early fall due to harsh weather conditions in the winter. It can accommodate up to 45 guests and serves breakfast and dinner daily. It's also the only "hotel" in that you can stay in within the national park boundary.
Supplying the lodge can be somewhat challenging since it can only be reached by hiking trails. The Alum Cave Trail, a hike that is 5 miles in length, is the shortest route and is quite strenuous. To deliver supplies to the lodge, helicopter air drops periodically bring larger items and train of pack lamas carry food, linens, and other supplies to the lodge three times every week.
The LeConte Lodge is not one single lodge, but rather a large group of cabins on near the summit of Mt. LeConte. The lodge itself is about 6,400 feet. It has one of the best grandstand views in the Smoky Mountains and is the highest elevation lodge in the Eastern United States.
Hiking Trails To Mt. Leconte Lodge
There are five hiking trails that reach the lodge on Mt LeConte.
- Trillium Gap – 6.5 Miles
- Alum Cave Trail – 5 Miles
- The Boulevard Trail – 8 Miles
- Rainbow Falls Trail - 6.9 Miles
- Bullhead Trail – 7.2 Miles
As part of your vacation in the Smoky Mountains, consider visiting this historic destination in the national park. It was instrumental in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains and continues to be one of the most scenic places in the mountains of Tennessee. You can watch a short tour of the LeConte Lodge here:
Written by Hayden Brown