Rainbow Falls is our 3rd trail to Monte LeConte! It felt like such an accomplishment to finish this trail and still be walking. No really..but it was actually my favorite Monte LeConte trail. Our first trail Alum Caves seemed the easiest for me and it was the longest trail we had hiked after my broken leg (sorry no post on this hike, before we started Mtns Are Calling). Trillium Gap Trail was our second trail to Monte LeConte and probably my least favorite. Hiking the same trail as the llama train was interesting but a good tip is to hike earlier in the season when the impact from the llamas is less.
A few stats on the 5 trails to Monte LeConte
- Alum Caves Trail – 11 Miles 2763 Elevation Change 16 Difficulty Rating
- Trillium Gap Trail – 13.9 Miles 3401 Elevation Change 20 Difficulty Rating
- Rainbow Falls Trail – 13.8 Miles 3993 Elevation Change 22 Difficulty Rating
- Bullhead Trail – 14.4 Miles 3993 Elevation Change 22 Difficulty Rating
- Boulevard Trail – 15.6 Miles 3000 Elevation Change 21 Difficulty Rating
We haven’t hiked Bullhead Trail yet (it’s closed due to the fire last year) but we are hoping to hike Boulevard Trail this year, before we go to Yosemite and hike Half Dome (insert eek face here).
Quick plug, we camped at Anchor Down Campground on Douglas Lake (45 minutes from the trail head) and WOW we were NOT disappointed. And yes we had our very own private fireplace, they delivered our firewood to the campsite ($5 bucket) and they also had tons of things for kids to do! MAC (our Mobile Base Camp) was a lifesaver, since it rained several days before the hike and after. But blue skies were a blessing on hike day.
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Our drive to the trail head was a little longer than we anticipated so we didn’t make it at 7:00 am like we were hoping. But it was very cold (29 degrees) so I was not disappointed. The trail head is very easy to find (see below), The climb started right away so we warmed up fast, but my hands still were cold AND I had on gloves ( must be circulation). A large doe started following us and continued for a little while, she seemed curious, but stayed her distance. I wish I could have gotten a photo but every time I tried to open my phone case Timbuk2 Phone Case she was a little startled. Let me just say I LoVe this phone case it attaches several different ways to your pack or belt and holds my phone very securely.
(sorry a little blurry)
There was a little burnout at the start of the trail but cleared the further we went however, we did run into a much larger burned area almost to the top (it must have been really hot there).
Chris said the fires path reminded him of how a river flows.
As we continue up the LeConte Creek valley, we crossed two footbridges; one at 1.7 miles, and the other just as we reached Rainbow Falls (80-foot high waterfall), located approx 2.7 miles from the trailhead. That afternoon when we were hiking down there were so many families hiking with little kids; so you don’t have to hike to Monte LeConte many turnaround at Rainbow Falls (5.4 miles round trip).
We crossed a lot of water and hiked sometimes for over a mile in kind of a trickle stream. However, this trail gets so much water during heavy rains and is sometimes closed due to rain. It had rained a few days before we hiked and I can tell you I would not attempt to hike this trail if we had thunderstorms before.
The further we hiked the more ice we saw. I would hike on the border of the trail because it was a sheet of ice in places where the sun could not reach.
At the top was the worst burned area we saw.
We ventured onto Bullhead at .6 miles from the summit (you actually turn left for the summit) turning right to check it out a little. What a nice view of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Yes, and we added an additional 2 miles.
Monte LeConte summit and our welcoming committee.
If you are unaware, there is a lodge at the summit, but it doesn’t have running water or flush bathrooms (it’s very rustic) but it is always full and hard to make reservations. Or at least that is what I have heard.
Our hike down seems so much easier from hiking up for 6.9 miles. It seems almost like a different trail when you are hiking down you see things from a different viewpoint. Also, I take more photos hiking up reason 1 I’m not as tired and 2 it gives me a short break.
After 10 hours of hiking (stopping for a few breaks and lunch) we arrived back at the truck, tired, hungry and needing a shower. I was very thankful the weather was a little cooler.
- Take a lot of water I carried 3 liters (we carry an emergency straw) and they do have water at the top
- Bring enough food to eat every couple of hours, to keep your energy up
- Always bring rain gear
- Start early it’s a long day (unless you hike faster than we do)
- Hiking in the cooler weather means less traffic on the trail
- Get to the parking lot early to get a spot
- The trail is very well marked
- Remember you don’t have to hike to the summit, Rainbow Falls is still a great hike
- Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies
- Monte LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smokies at 6593 ft.
Five Trails to Mount LeConte:
Alum Cave Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Bull Head Trail, The Boulevard Trail
Directions to the Trail Head – Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you’ll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you’ll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. After driving roughly 0.6 miles on the loop, the Rainbow Falls Trailhead will be located on your right. If this parking lot is full, there’s an auxiliary parking area about a tenth-of-a-mile further down the road.