Hike to Mount LeConte-Cliff Tops via Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow Falls Trailhead Parking Area

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).

Pack List

Must-Have Gear:
  • Hiking boots/shoes with good ankle support
  • Water bottle or filtration system
  • Trail map
Optional Take-Alongs:
  • Hiking poles
  • Snack
  • Slip-on ice spikes/traction (winter only)
Show More
RT Distance 13.8 Miles
Elevation Gain 3993 Feet
Activities Chillin, Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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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.


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