Trillium Gap Trail is a heavily forested trail that winds along streams, behind waterfalls, and finally finishes at the summit of Mount LeConte. One of five trails to the summit, we consider this trail well-balanced considering its total distance, complexity and sights along the way. You’ll add just over 3,400 feet on the hike toward Mount LeConte’s summit, which peaks at 6,593 feet. The hike is a solid 13.9 miles roundtrip if you visit Myrtle Point (an absolute must if you’ve made it that far!).
As an added bonus, Trillium Gap Trail is the path llama handlers use to carry supplies up to LeConte Lodge three days a week. Who doesn’t love llamas?
The most notable attraction along Trillium Gap Trail is Grotto Falls, a 25-foot high waterfall approximately 1.5 miles into the hike. In fact, the trail passes behind the falls, offering an excellent opportunity to snap a few photos with family or friends. You may be surprised by the sheer power of the falls, which roar loudly as you walk behind them. If you are hiking during summer, we recommend stalling here for a few minutes, as temperatures are cooler near the falls and the air is moist. It can be a welcome respite from the hotter temperatures found elsewhere along the hike.
Trillium Gap Trail starts as a wide path and a very steady ascent. The lower end of the trail is surrounded by greenery — especially during spring. In fact, we recommend hiking this trail in the spring if for no other reason than to see the beautiful wildflowers that grow copiously along the trail.
The first major stop is Grotto Falls. The area is shady and often busy during peak seasons. Many people choose the waterfall as a turnaround point, making for a 3-mile trip. If Grotto Falls is your destination, expect to spend no more than 2 or 3 hours on the trail. If you decide to press on, however, expect the crowds to thin as you pass the falls.
You will get to the junction of Trillium Gap and the Brushy Mountain Trail approximately 1.5 miles after Grotto Falls. Again, this may serve as a turnaround point or resting spot along the way. It is the last major marker for another 3.6 miles, where the trail runs past LeConte Lodge and into the Rainbow Falls Trail. Side trails branch off near the summit, leading to the Cliff Top and Myrtle Point. These offer breathtaking views from more than 6,500 feet and spectacular locations to enjoy a sunset. The summit — known as High Top — offers no views, but it is just a short three-tenths of a mile hike from the Leconte Lodge.
Trillium Gap Trail vs. Other Mt. LeConte Trails
Trillium Gap Trail is a popular choice for people who want to see Grotto Falls or who prefer a more gradual elevation gain than some of the other Mt. LeConte trails have to offer. Rainbow Falls Trail, for example, is similar in that it offers views of beautiful waterfalls, but it gains elevation in more rapid spurts. Alum Cave Trail is less strenuous overall, but it is also more heavily trafficked and shorter than most of the other hikes.
Plan on spending your entire day along Trillium Gap Trail if the pinnacle is your destination. The average hiker could easily require 8 to 10 hours for a roundtrip hike, accounting for stops at Grotto Falls and lookout points along the way. Starting at sunrise or shortly after should deliver you to the top of Mt. LeConte by lunchtime and return you to your car before dark. If you prefer to spend a little more time near the summit, consider booking a night at LeConte Lodge, the only lodging available on Mt. LeConte.
-Though Trillium Gap Trail is beautiful, keep in mind that this is a relatively strenuous hike. Allow adequate time to ascend and return, and bring plenty of water and snacks for the trip.
-With many native wildflowers along the Trillium Gap Trail, this hike makes the perfect spring hike!
Trailhead and Parking
Traffic lights in Gatlinburg are numbered, so if you are visiting the trail from the city, begin at traffic light number 8. Turn onto Historic Natural Trail and follow it several miles until you reach Cherokee Orchard Loop Road inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Follow the loop nearly a mile before turning right onto Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Like the loop, this is a one-way road.
The Trillium Gap Trail parking area will be on your left approximately a mile and a half down the road. We recommend arriving early for a parking space, as they fill up quickly. Don’t fret if you find a full lot, though; additional parking is available further up the road — you’ll just need to do a little walking to reach the trailhead.The Bottom Line:
The Trillium Gap Trail is a strenuous, all-day hike that is nearly 14 miles roundtrip and gains over 3,400 feet in elevation. While the trail is physically demanding, it offers hikers the chance to see native wildflowers, experience the immersive views of Myrtle Point, visit Grotto Falls, and spend time at the famous Leconte Lodge. This trail should be on any avid hiker's short-list!