Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of our favorite spots for a day hike or weekend overnight trip. Now mind you, we are perfectly content to drive 3+ hours one way for a day hike. It's what we do.
But for those of you closer to the Smokies or looking for a hike while you're visiting Gatlinburg, this is a great go-to spot.
The hike I'll recommend today is one that passes Rainbow Falls and climbs up to Mt. LeConte, a charming village of cabins. If you plan ahead, you can make a reservation to spend the night in the lodge. If you're like us, you can purchase a lunch, drink, or snack in the dining hall (freshly baked cookies!).
It has a lot of climbing on the way up but the foot traffic isn't too bad once you pass Rainbow Falls. We did the hike on a Saturday in the summer and saw four-five other hikers on the more remote sections.
Start on the Rainbow Falls Trail off of Cherokee Orchard Road. Climb to LeConte on this trail, passing the Falls (2.7 miles) and the intersection with Bull Head Trail (6.1 miles). After visiting the summit area (6.7 miles), return the way you came but turn Left on Bull Head Trail when you reach the intersection. Half a mile from the end of the hike, you'll meet Old Sugarlands Trail. Turn right here. Total miles: 13.5.
Short Cut: Turn around at Rainbow Falls for a shorter hike (5.4 total miles).
Pro tips: Bring cash for spending at the lodge. Pack your warm layers as the temps on top will be far colder than the ones in the valley where you start. The weather can change quickly so consider bringing rain gear.
Parking Location: 35.767, -83.486, Along Cherokee Orchard Road