A popular, scenic run that passes Grotto Falls on the way to Mt. Leconte.”
— Max Willner
Great Smoky Mountain National Park closes secondary roads on a seasonal schedule due to snow. Schedules can be found here
All campsites must be registered with the park. Backcountry rules and regulations can be found here
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — River/Creek — Spring — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Dogs: No Dogs
Arrive at the trailhead early, as the trail leading to Grotto Falls is often crowded during peak times. Trail traffic will thin dramatically after the falls, allowing you to enjoy the solitude.
The Trillium Gap Trail is one of several trails that lead to Mt. Le Conte. This trail can be reached by the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, but it's important to note that this road (among several others) closes every year during the winter season.
While the entire trail is technically nine miles, most runners choose to drive roughly two miles in and park at the Grotto Falls parking area. The trailhead can be found just shortly in on the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This is a wonderful run that is lush with plant life and gradually offers amazing views on the way up to Mt. Le Conte.
About 3.5 miles into the route, visitors will pass Grotto Falls. This dramatic waterfall offers a great view, a perfect place to have a picnic, or just a spot to catch your breath.
Climbing to Trillium Gap is fairly easy to pull off, and the journey is sprinkled with a couple of stream crossings (including the Roaring Fork). The going gets a bit more challenging once runners begin their way up towards the Mt. Le Conte lodge. Be sure to notice the abundance of milky quartz on the way to the top - one of the hardest and most common varieties of crystalline quartz on the planet. The last section of this trail is perhaps the rockiest, so it's good to exercise caution on your way to the top.
Once you reach the summit of Mt. Le Conte, you'll have a variety of options. Continue on to reach the summits of Cliff Top or of High Top if you're looking for more incredible views.
If the 9-mile return journey is too much to contemplate for one day, there are various overnight options available. Stay at the Le Conte Lodge, or camp out at the Mt. Le Conte shelter. No matter what you choose, your return journey will follow the same gentle and scenic trail that you took on the ascent.
Flora & Fauna
The Smokies are home to more than 1,600 species of plants, most of which produce an abundance of flowers in the spring. These species include mountain laurel, rhododendron, azalea, and many others. Spring wildflowers peak from early April through late May. To learn more about the plants of the Smokies and even get a trees and shrubs checklist, visit the park's website
As for local fauna, black bears are common in the area, along with white-tailed deer and 31 species of salamanders. Birdwatchers can spot a variety of species, notably the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). For more information on black bears, refer to this webpage