The whole time I was living in Seattle, I wanted to plan a trip to Tennessee to visit the Smoky Mountains. The biggest hurdle was paying $400-$500 for a plane ticket just to get there, in addition to paying for a hotel and possibly a rental car. Sometimes I wished I were closer so it'd be easier to make the trip.
I didn't know at the time that I'd get my wish.
Since I've spent this spring and part of summer in Georgia, I can drive up to Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains in just 3.5 hours. I booked a room at Zoder's Inn (I discovered it online when I was in Seattle and have been wanting to stay there ever since) and my parents and I drove up to spend a weekend hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Zoder's Inn was awesome. I loved having a balcony over the stream (it's why I chose this hotel), the bed was very comfortable and the room was reasonably priced. It was a short drive from the park and close enough to the restaurants and attractions in Gatlinburg without being right in the middle of the busy part of town.
I had been frustrated lately about the lack of difficult hikes in the south, and I set out to find the most difficult hike. According to HikeTheSouth.com, the only hike they rated as difficult was Alum Cave Bluffs to Mt. LeConte.
Round trip distance: 10.5 miles
Highest point: 6,594 feet
Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
Pass: None. No fee for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
|Route from the trailhead to Mt. LeConte Lodge|
The trail begins off the Alum Bluffs trailhead on Newfound Gap Road. For a while, it follows the stream and crosses a few bridges until it reaches Arch Rock.
|On the way back down going under Arch Rock|
One thing that I did not expect was how pretty this trail would be and how varied the terrain was. As we began to gain elevation, we saw a ton of flowers along the trail.
At 2.4 miles, we reached Alum Cave Bluffs. This was impressive, as the rock face is huge and also makes for a shady shelter from the sun.
As we continued along the trail, we encountered more types of terrain. There were a few areas with steep, slippery rock, and holding onto the guide wire is recommended during these sections. We saw several different types of trees, flowers, and plants (lots of ferns!) on this trail. Some sections were flat, some were rocky and steep, and some required stepping over roots and rocks or going up rock steps or notches in a log.
We finally reached Mt. LeConte Lodge. I would love to stay overnight in one of their cute cabins someday. We walked around the lodge property for a few minutes and then sat in the office and ate some Clif bars before continuing onto the Cliff Tops trail - about 0.2 miles from the lodge.
The views from the Cliff Tops trail were definitely worth it! It was a beautiful day and we could see the Smoky Mountains stretched out before us.
Clouds were rolling in while we sat up there, and the top of one of the neighboring mountains was eventually covered. The cloud over the trees looked like fog and reminded me of Washington.
There was a small ledge to sit on that made for a great photo - and it is safer than it appears, because there was another small ledge below that one.
Although this was rated as the most difficult day hike in the south, it still was not challenging enough for me. While some sections were steep, there was not a lot of steady elevation gain. My parents had no trouble at all with the hike, even though neither of them had ever hiked this far. This was my longest hike as well. That said, I loved this hike. It was gorgeous and had a lot of variety in the scenery and trail terrain, so there was always something new to look at. I loved the lodge and the views from the top are amazing. If there is one hike you should do when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it's this hike.