leconte lodge

^^ our cabin is the one in the middle with the windows open and curtains blowing in the cool mountain breeze. ^^

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Tiny rugged cabins at the top of the mountain are the stuff dreams are made of.  I’m not sure how I first heard about these cabins but I knew the moment that I did that we had to go. Fast forward a couple years, a few cancellations, and a 5 mile hike later and we had finally made it to LeConte Lodge.

We stumbled into camp much later than everyone else, in fact, we were probably the last to arrive that evening. After checking in at the dining hall we were given a metal bucket, some soap, and some washcloths — aka our bathing supplies. Sly filled the bucket with some hot water and, after freshening up a bit, we pulled on some warmer clothes and set up our hammock on our semi-private porch.

Most of the smaller cabins had porches that faced one another, which, being that I’m antisocial, I found somewhat awkward. It’s kind of like being on a train where your seat faces another seat and you want to read your book or stare out the window in silence but then at the same time feel obligated to say something to the person across from you because not doing so would be even weirder. Yeah, it was like that. Our porch faced our neighbors porch and after greeting one another we sort of sat awkwardly on our own porches pretending to ignore the other party even though we were sitting right across from one another. They were really nice, I’m just a weirdo.

Sly and I took turns swaying in the hammock and rocking in the rocking chairs before dinner. At 6pm the dinner bell literally rang and all of the cabins emptied themselves of hungry people that lined up outside the dining hall. Good thing we had made friends with our porchmates because we ended up sharing a table with them during dinner service.

As for dinner — the food itself was pretty disappointing, but the atmosphere was lively and fun and we (or maybe just me?) were really glad that we were sitting with our neighbors instead of at one of the bigger, louder, tables. The menu, which was more or less the same every night consisted of: half a canned peach, cornbread, canned roast beef, canned green beans, instant mashed potatoes, canned stewed apples, some kind of watery creamy soup (guessing also from a can), and a chocolate chip cookie. If you end up staying more than one night, they switch the menu so that the next night you get (canned) chicken and dumplings and (canned) peas and carrots as your mains. If you are vegetarian, you will get the same menu without the meat. And if you are vegan or GF, you are probably screwed because quite honestly the best thing on the menu were the possibly homemade baked goods.

I read that the menu barely changed, if at all, since the 60s and that the reason it stays the same is because people don’t want it to change — they want to go back to the same place, same cabin, eat the same food, have the same memories, etc. And I sort of get that but really it’s a shame. I’m certainly not above canned food — I love Spam for crying out loud — but how much better of an experience would it be to have a semi-fresh, home-cooked meal in a beautiful setting high on top of a mountain? Even a few shreds of wilted iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing would be better. We had one of the best home-cooked meals of our lives while staying at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp (highly highly recommended), so we know it is within the realm of possibility, even for remote camps like this one.

< end rant >

On the plus, and these are huge pluses, the location was stunning. The cabins were clean and well-maintained. People were friendly. The sunsets were breathtaking. And the food — well, by the time you hike up to that point you’re hungry enough not to care too much.

And maybe that’s part of LeConte Lodge’s memorable charm. Bad food and all.


LeConte Lodge / $132 per adult for a small cabin. Includes dinner and breakfast. Sack lunch extra $10. Larger multi-room cabins available for larger parties // Reservations for the following season begins in October of the previous year. For example, if you want to book a cabin for June 2015 you should put in your request Oct. 1, 2014. In case you’re wondering, it does book fast — many people — like our cabin neighbors — are grandfathered into their dates and automatically renew the same date/cabin year after year. // To reach the lodge you must hike one of the trails up to the lodge as there is no other form of transportation besides helicopter or llama (llamas bring up supplies several times a week — for more information/how to see them, click here.). The shortest but steepest trail is the Alum Cave Trail, which is what we hiked to get to the lodge. LeConte Lodge is made up of a cluster of one, two, and three room cabins clustered around a dining hall and main lodge that houses a great room/lounge. The private cabins consist of a large queen-sized bunk (linens provided), a small table, kerosene lamp, washbin, soap, mugs, and drying rack. There is also a heater inside the cabin for cold nights. The interior space is pretty tight but the beds can theoretically sleep 4 adults. Attached to the cabin is a nice large porch equipped with rocking chairs, and is the perfect place to string up a hammock. Hot/Cold potable water is available at the dining hall and regular water pumps are interspersed throughout the cabins. There are 4 flush toilets on site (shared) as well as 4 ‘environmental’ toilets. You really only need to pack in flashlights, warm layers, and a towel. Communal meals are served 2x a day – 8am for breakfast, 6pm for dinner. The menu, as mentioned above, rarely changes, and in my opinion is below average though breakfast is nominally better than dinner. For $10 extra you can have all-you-can-drink wine with your meal(s) but since dinner service only lasts 1.5 hrs, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I would honestly just pack in my own portable wine boxes from target (these are our favorite backpacking wines). For those looking for a secluded mountaintop retreat, this is not that kind of place. It’s more like staying in a cabin village or something — there is a lot of activity and it’s definitely not very private. On the other hand, there is a lot of opportunity to meet and mingle with other people, and if you’re with a small group or family it would probably be pretty perfect.

TIP: Skip the packed lunch. There is so much food available during breakfast — pancakes, eggs, canadian bacon, biscuits — and you can eat as much as you want. Save a biscuit and some scrambled egg and you have yourself an egg sammy for lunch. Honestly though, there’s so much food I cannot imagine even wanting to eat lunch after gorging on breakfast. Also if you want to buy souvenirs bring CASH. Some of the souvenirs available, like tshirts, can only be bought at the lodge.

VERDICT: Go. The views and location are hard to beat, and as a whole, this is a pretty great “glamping” experience.  In my opinion the food does not live up to the potential of the place, but at the same time I ate everything put in front of me. Despite its ‘remoteness’ the lodge itself has a very communal village-y type vibe. In other words, the larger groups can get kind of loud/are sometimes unaware that they aren’t the only ones staying at the lodge or that not everyone at the lodge wants to get wasted on all-you-can-drink wine during dinner. At night, you can see the lights of Pigeon Forge which sort of detracts from the nature experience, but is also kind of cool at the same time.

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  • funnelcloud rachel
    October 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I think we might have enjoyed the Great Smokies a lot more had we stayed here – this looks amazing! Instead we stayed in a La Quinta in Pigeon Forge. (GAG!) This was before we were married and we saw so many tacky wedding photos in PF (brides with big hair, poufy dresses, and blue eyeshadow) and cars decked out with tin cans and shaving foam that Larry thought it was funny to “propose” we get married there. He still doesn’t let me forget that I turned him down…

    Anyway, the La Quinta had a HEART-SHAPED JACUZZI in the room and pink sheets on the bed. #honeymoonsuite 😉

    You can bet I took a bath in that jacuzzi, too..

    Next time I’ll be hauling my sack of camera lenses up to LeConte Lodge and bathing out of a bucket!

  • veronika
    October 13, 2014 at 3:18 am

    The towns around GSM were really perplexing to us — I was not expecting the theme park vibe. We thought it was so weird how people were hanging out in the towns just outside the park instead of actually going into the park.

    I sort of have a soft spot for kitsch so a heart-shaped jacuzzi + tacky wedding photos (we originally wanted to elope in vegas) has piqued my interest! Haha.

  • funnelcloud rachel
    October 13, 2014 at 5:36 am

    Ha! I have a soft spot for kitsch, too (which is why I found the heart-shaped jacuzzi so amusing), but I think I prefer it more in moderation. 😉 I agree, it was strange to see so many people doing touristy activities in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, when they could be exploring the national park! But despite the crowds in the surrounding towns, we never thought the park seemed crowded, which was fine by me.

  • veronika
    October 14, 2014 at 1:43 am

    You are making me want to go back now to seek out all the corny over-the-top kitsch places and make a vacay out of that! (You made me google the La Quinta.)

    There was this weird haunted house in Gatlinburg that I was so curious about. I wanted to go inside but Sly sort of rolled his eyes at me.

  • funnelcloud rachel
    October 14, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    One day when we can afford our RV and quit working, I want to take a kitschy/Americana roadtrip across the USA and stop at the giant ball of twine, Carhenge, etc…

  • veronika
    October 15, 2014 at 5:18 am

    That’s our dream too — two old people traveling the world (or maybe just the US) in our remodeled Airstream. Or maybe just a really sweet VW Westie with a little bubble window at the top so the kitties can peer out! Guess we’ll see each other on the road in about 20 years!