To celebrate the beginning of spring, my birthday, and just as an excuse to see friends that live too far apart, we decided to go on a weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We got an awesome little cabin up in the mountains about a ten minute drive from the downtown area. Over the next few days we ate delicious food, enjoyed great company, and explored a bit of the beautiful Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
Day 1 – Saturday, March 30th – Mt LeConte via Alum Cave Bluffs
Morgan, Cece, Danny and I parked at the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead just after 9am to hike probably the most popular mountain in the area: Mount LeConte. The weather looked absolutely perfect for a hike, with the high down in the valley forecast in the mid-70s. Saturdays are a busy day on popular routes like this, but we found parking and got started with no trouble at all.
I didn’t take many pictures on the way up, but I managed to snap a few before the burn set in and the smiles started to fade. Arch Rock is the first cool landmark that we saw, as pictured above, and you climb right through this very unique formation. The next notable photo op we passed was the Alum Cave Bluffs themselves. I thought it was so neat to be able to look straight up and see trees growing directly above me, and some melt from the higher elevations was dripping down and getting carried in interesting patterns by the crazy wind currents.
The Alum Cave Bluffs are just under 2.5 miles in. They’re a perfect turnaround point if you haven’t sweated out enough Gatlinburg moonshine to climb another 1600′ of elevation. I didn’t take many pictures on the way up the mountain, but a few times we would climb around a bend or through a gap in the trees and I would have to stop to snap a few. No need to upload those, though. As is often the case on hikes I took the pictures not knowing that the view from the top blew them out of the water.
We reached the summit at 11:40, so it took us about two and a half hours to get to the top. I’m so glad we went the extra 3/4 miles to Myrtle Point. Almost no elevation change, but a lot fewer hikers, a very cool trail as you approach the point, and incredible views. We munched on some ham & cheese sandwiches and coconut and cashew snacks from Costco before heading back down the mountain.
We hopped in our cabin’s hot tub with some beers to recover from the hike. Later we headed into town for some eats and Gatlinburg moonshine.
This shows a topographical map of the route we took up the mountain.
Day 2 – Sunday, March 31st – Rainbow Falls Hike
Unfortunately, Cece and Danny couldn’t stick around for another day. We spent the morning with them wandering around downtown before setting off for our afternoon hike. We decided to hike a different face of Mt LeConte up to a waterfall called Rainbow Falls. The weather was a bit chillier but that has never stopped me from enjoying a hike before! Just got to have the right gear.
This shows the topo of the hike. If you zoom out just a little you can see the hike from the previous day just a couple miles southeast of this one!
Day 3 – Monday, April 1st – Old Settler’s Trail
We started this 17.2 mile doozy from the Maddron Bald Trailhead a little ways out of town after dropping one car off at the Grapeyard Ridge Trailhead. We weren’t totally sure how long the hike was going to be, as different sources quoted different hike lengths. We got a late start, hiking from Maddron Bald Trailhead at 1230 pm and Morgan was stressing that we wouldn’t make it while it was still light out. When we got to the first trail marker it showed that the total mileage would be 17.2 total and that ended up being dead on according to our phones.
I didn’t take as many pictures on this one. There’s a great write-up on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website! To me it was a great balance between well-maintained and slightly overgrown. Bridges were functional but I felt like getting out of town much more than the very busy Mt LeConte trails.
Overall, Gatlinburg was a great experience and the weather and views from the top of Mt LeConte were the most stunning I’ve seen in the US. The infrastructure is well developed and there are hike options for those of most skill levels to get up to the top of the mountain!