They say there's more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively speaking, of course), and that advice also applies when it comes to reaching the top of one of the area's most notable mountain peaks – Mt. LeConte. There are actually five different routes you can take if you're planning to hike to the top of the mountain, which is the third highest in the Great Smoky Mountains range.
Alum Cave Trail is probably the most popular route, partially because it's the shortest but also because it offers a number of interesting features, including Alum Cave Creek, Arch Rock, Alum Cave Bluff and a number of scenic mountain overlooks. It's a 5.5-mile one-way trip to the top, with a net elevation gain of 2,560 feet.
The Boulevard Trail is the longest of the hikes. At eight miles one way, the trail is relatively rolling and not terribly steep until you get to the end. The net elevation gain is 1,080 feet. You actually start out on the Appalachian Trail and follow it 2.7 miles to a point where the Boulevard Trail branches off toward the mountaintop.
The Bullhead Trail originates off Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg and offers a 7.2-mile hike to the summit of LeConte. The elevation gain is 3,820 feet. At mile, 6.4, it intersects with Rainbow Falls Trail (see below).
The Rainbow Falls Trail also starts off on Cherokee Orchard Road and takes hikers on a 6.5-mile trip to the peak of LeConte. The net elevation gain is 3,820 feet. The main point of interest is Rainbow Falls themselves, which are at the 2.4-mile mark. This trail intersects with the Bullhead Trail within a mile of the summit.
Trillium Gap Trail starts at the Grotto Falls parking lot on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in Gatlinburg. The distance to the top of LeConte is 6.5 miles, with a gain of 3,300 feet. Grotto Falls can be seen at the 1.5-mile mark, and you'll also see Roaring Fork Creek, one of the steepest streams in the park.
Once you reach the top of Mt. LeConte, you'll eventually have to head back down that same day. LeConte Lodge is located at the summit, but you typically have to book reservations for the lodge a couple of years in advance. So if you're going to do a day hike of Mt. LeConte, you're best off staying in a rental cabin or motel that will make the Mt. LeConte trails easily accessible.
If hiking is your thing, then you must plan a hike to Mt. LeConte!