Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Hike to Mount LeConte-Cliff Tops via Rainbow Falls Trail

13.8 Miles Total - 3993 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Adam Welch

The Rainbow Falls trail is not the easiest route to take to the famous summit of Mount Leconte but it does offer some fantastic opportunities or viewing multiple waterfalls and spring wildflowers. The Cliff Tops overlook offers what might very well be the most spectacular sunset view in GSMNP.

Begin at the Rainbow Falls trail parking lot. This is very popular area especially in the summer. If the parking area at the trail head is full there is additional parking located just past the main lot. From here the Rainbow Falls trail is just under 14 miles to the summit of Mount Leconte. Elevation gain is steady but relatively steep.

The trail opens along a fairly rocky and rooty traverse overlooking Leconte Creek. If time permits, there are some very nice cascades worth venturing off the trail to inspect. Watch your step along this first section of trail, though. At just over 2.6 miles you will reach the trail's namesake, Rainbow Falls. These falls plunge approximately 80 feet from the cliff face making them the current title holder for tallest single drop waterfall in GSMNP. The trail continues from here by crossing a footbridge immediately after the waterfall.

At the 5.4 mile mark a small side trail is available to the left of the trail. This is a short loop that will take you to Rocky Spur which is worth the short walk for the views. At around 6 miles, the Rainbow Falls trail joins with Bullhead trail and you will need to veer to the left to stay on course. Shortly after the Bullhead junction, Alum Cave Trail will join from the right followed by Trillium Gap trail from the left. From here, you will pass by the famous LeConte Lodge and rustic cabins. These cabins are the only commercially available lodgings in the Park. The lodge is definitely worth exploring.

To reach Cliff Tops, look for a small side trail to the right across from the cabins. It has a LARGE sign listing trail information. It is a short but quite steep hike up to the overlook which rounds out the hike at 6.6 miles.

The Leconte Lodge offers chow and beverages during the peak season so stop in to replenish while you soak up some of the lodge's history! Don't forget to refill your water bottle here if you haven't brought a filter. You can also choose to make this an overnight by booking a room at the lodge or staying in one of the Appalachian Trail shelters nearby (hikers need to make reservations with the Backcountry Reservations Office (865) 436-1231).

Read More

Tags

Chillin
Photography
Hiking
Easy Parking
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Great Hike

Amazing views and great 1st hike . Start early and allow enough time to enjoy the view. Got dark on the way down and all we had was our cell phone light.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

Stay Nearby

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion

Overview Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion is the largest in the park, surrounded by the scenic forest of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in a secluded and private section of the Smokies...

Little River Trail

Spence Cabin

Overview Spence Cabin is an ideal place to hold a small family gathering or family reunion away from the hustle and bustle of nearby towns. It is also an excellent location for a meeting or traini...

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Elkmont Campground

Overview Located eight miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Elkmont Campground is the largest and busiest campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At an elevation of 2,150 feet, the area en...

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Appalachian Clubhouse

Overview The Appalachian Clubhouse is a historic building constructed in 1934 in the Elkmont Historic District. The structure has been rehabilitated by the National Park Service to closely resemble...

Nearby Adventures

  • Scenic Drive on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

    This 6 mile drive is a great way to spend a scenic day in the Smokies. The road is open to cars only (no trucks or RVs) and runs one-way. There are no visitors centers after you head out, so be sure to bring everything you need along. The drive be...

  • Hike to Baskins Creek Falls

    The trail begins with a short climb, and after around a quarter of a mile, flattens out and you can get decent views to your west when the leaves are of the trees. At around one mile you will have descended to a small creek crossing. I would sugge...

    3 miles 953 ft gain

  • Hike Grotto Falls Trail

    This is an intermediate hike along Trillium Gap Trail. There are four stream crossings on your way to the falls, as you hike through an idyll, often wildflower-sprinkled landscape. Late spring is best for catching blooms. Once at the waterfall, yo...

    2.6 miles 585 ft gain

  • Camp out at Mt. LeConte Lodge

    At the summit of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the lodge sits at a elevation of 6400 feet. It is the only "accommodations" inside the park boundaries. It is the highest lodge in the eastern United States.   Accessible onl...