Stay at the LeConte Lodge in the Smokies!

Someday … when the kids are older and I’m in tip-top shape, we will do this as a family.

Did you know that you can hike to the top of Mount LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smokies at 6593 feet, and stay in the rustic LeConte Lodge overnight? Sounds like an adventure to me!

How do you get there? There are several choices. The Trillium Gap Trail (at 6.7 miles) is the easiest trek to the top, as it is the least steep. The Alum Cave Trail will take you straight to the top in 5.5 miles, but it’s straight up. Another strenuous hike to try is the Alum Cave Trail. It’s also only 5.5 miles, but is generally considered to be the most difficult.

Once you get to the top, you can enjoy lunch, then hike back down, or stay for the night. Lunch is available for $9, but reservations are required for a hot lunch — call 865-429-5704 to make reservations. Lunch reservations can’t be made online. If you don’t have reservations, you can purchase a sack lunch.

Vegetarian meals can be accommodated with advance notice.

Hot chocolate and coffee await hikers when they reach the LeConte Lodge. Breakfast and dinner are fed to travelers, and lunch is provided for guests who stay more than one night. Wine is also available for a small extra fee. All this without electricity! Amazing!

If you decide to stay the night, you need to make advance reservations (you can make reservations online). You will stay in either one of seven rough-hewn cabins or one of three multi-room lodges. The one-room cabins have upper and lower double bunk beds (perfect for our family of four!). Some of the cabins also have a single bed. The lodges work for larger groups, with multiple bedrooms. The units come with kerosene lamps, heaters, a basin and bucket for a sponge bath (! I’ll have to work up to dealing with this…), a table and chairs, a mirror, pegs and porches with rocking chairs.

They do NOT come with a bathroom! In fact, there is no electricity at all. This is why the Lodge is called rustic. There is a separate building with flush toilets (how they do that without electricity, I do not know) but no showers. There is a spigot for hot water (again, that’s one spigot for the whole Lodge area!).

Staying at the Lodge not as cheap as you may think, though. It costs around (rates haven’t been updated for the 2011 season, so these prices may be slightly low) $116 per adult and $85 for kids ages 4-12 for lodging in a cabin, dinner and breakfast. To stay in the lodge, it costs $632 for up to 8 people, plus $37 (adults) or $25 (kids) for dinner and breakfast. There is also a 3-bedroom lodge, which costs $948 for up to 12 people, plus the same as above for meals.

Why does it cost so much? There’s no road to the top. Even employees have to hike up. How, you’re wondering, do the supplies get there? A train of llamas takes supplies up the trail 3 times per week. Horses were used previously, but they had trouble maneuvering the trails, so the lodge people started using llamas about 25 years ago. Llamas are perfect due to the leathery pads on their hooves and because they can carry up to 30% of their body weight. The llamas usually pack on Monday, Wednesday and Friday using the Trillium Gap Trail, leaving between 7:30 and 8 a.m. There’s a great video about the llamas available. Check it out!

For more information on the Lodge, go to the High on LeConte blog. I enjoy the daily posts. There are amazing photos — such as a photo of surprise snow yesterday — and fun updates on what the caretakers are up to, even in the off-season.

Some things to consider:

  • It gets COLD up there! Daytime temps have never reached 80 degrees and it gets quite cool even in the height of summer. Temps in the 40s are common for nights during summer, and it gets in the teens during summer and fall.
  • So … dress warmly, even in summer. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt and a light raincoat or poncho.
  • Don’t worry about bringing things to keep you occupied at the top. The lodge office provides reading material and games.
  • Bring a towel. Towels are not included with your night’s stay.
  • Also, bring a flashlight for getting around.
  • You can buy a souvenir t-shirt at the top, so pack some cash or your credit card (they are accepted at the top). They are available ONLY at the Lodge. You can also buy various other souvenirs, such as hats, hiking sticks, water bottles and postcards. See souvenir prices.
  • The lodge is only open from March 22 to November 23.

The best advertising is word of mouth, huh? So I thought I’d see what people had to say about their stays at LeConte Lodge. Here’s what I found:

  • “Arriving at the lodge was very welcome indeed. The staff were all super—-great service—whatever you needed, they were available. The food was super and it seemed like our plates and glasses were never empty. Rooms were small but comfortable, but heat was turned on by request. There was good fellowship in the dining room and office area (nice heat in there in the evening).” — Steve and Fredrica Skov and Russ and Steph Sears
  • “We were taken to our cabin and issued a three-gallon galvanized bucket. There is hot water available at the dining hall that can be brought to your room to clean up with. This is truly a luxury this far in the backcountry. You are also asked to leave all of your food in the office to prevent bears from paying you a late night visit. Not hard to believe after seeing their attempt to get into the food store building just one night before. We were just getting settled when the dinner bell rang.”
  • “My husband and I were able to get in after a cancellation, and were so glad we did. The hike to the lodge is as diverse as it is beautiful. Just difficult enough to make you think you really accomplished something! We were so pleased with everything once we got there. The staff was wonderful, the cabins were clean and comfortable, and the food was surprisingly good considering there is no electricity there. The breakfast was especially good!”
  • “Thought the food, the cabins and the staff were great. One staff member, Katie, turned out to be my own personal trail angel when she chased off a large black bear as I walked into the lodge grounds. If you’re hiking up in really hot weather, bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need. The bottomless glass of wine is for real and a great value…they will NOT let your glass go empty for an entire hour!”
  • “Book it! This place was wonderful and really a trip I never thought I would enjoy…but I cannot wait to go back. The crew there, the food, the views and the time to spend with family was priceless.”
  • I search and searched for a negative review and had trouble finding one. This is the only negative out there, but it’s riddled with poor grammar and worse spelling, (Which I couldn’t help but fix for you. It’s a sickness.) so that makes me put less credibility in it. Here goes: “The food was horrible. Had to ask unpleasant staff to turn the heat up in freezing cabins. Was so bad I’ll probably never even hike the trail again. Wouldn’t recommend this Lodge to anyone that has children or doesn’t drink. The staff was unconcerned if we were happy or not just as long as you got out.” I should follow-up by saying that the staff actually responded to this review, apologizing for the poor experience. Impressive!
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  • Dustin Flick

    Thank you for all the helpful information! I am a high school student with a project on a road trip to national parks and this proved to be invaluable to me. I had visited The LeConte website and could not find lodging cost, which was a necessity for my project.

    • Kendra Beutler

       So glad we could help, Dustin! Good luck on the project!