View Full Version : Le Conte Shelter in May or September

01-09-2015, 14:49
I am trying to plan an overnighter with my 10 yo son this year. We want to hike up Alum on a weekend (due to closure during the week), stay in the shelter, and come back probably Trillium so as to run into the llamas. We have dad to pick us up so that is not an issue. I have several questions: (1) If staying in Le Conte shelter on a Sunday night in early May or in September after Labor Day, are we likely to avoid the partying crowd - either day or thru hikers? I really dont want to be stuck in a shelter with my kid and a bunch of drunks. Is there a ranger around at the lodge for instance in case of such issues? Am I just crazy to even think we can do this without having this problem? (2) Is the weather in early May usually fairly cold at night - we have 20 degree bags. (3) Is September weather any warmer at night - maybe the week after Labor Day?

Notes: (1) I know I cant get any guarantees but I would like to make an informed decision based on the experiences of others. (2) I do not mean to imply that all day and thru hikers are party animals, but I have heard enough anecdotal evidence to make it a concern especially since I will have a kid with me. (3) No I dont want to stay at the lodge - even if I could afford to. :)

Thanks in advance for any helpful information you can offer!

01-09-2015, 15:02
there is a ranger (or at least was two years ago) that stayed up there at the lodge between spring and fall and mainly on weekends, that would come around and check permits....

that is one of the most popular shelters, so it will almost be a guarantee that you will have people in the shelter with ya (partying or non partying).....

may weather can be cold............especially at night......

i stayed up at mount sterling a few mays ago and it got down into the 20's at night.....

september can be the same way........

during the week, the shelter is typically less full, but still busy............

and i dont think you'll see the llamas on the weekend........

they usually do their trips tuesdays and thursdays......

full conditions
01-09-2015, 15:03
Freezing temps on LeConte in early May are a real possibility - not probable, but definitely possible. I once woke up with frozen water bottles in June up at Ice Water Springs which is close by. September is likely to be warmer and drier and sub-freezing temps are very unlikely.

As for partiers, I've spent perhaps a total of maybe 12 nights up there in the past 20 years and have never run into anything like obnoxious drunks - about the closest thing ive run into are a few tipsy folks from the lodge who ordered the bottomless wine glass with dinner.

Rain Man
01-09-2015, 18:20
May will have the wildflower crowd and September will have the leaf-changing-colors crowd, so get your reservations well in advance.

Good thing that you know abut the Alum Cave Bluff trail being closed for renovation.

I do recommend watching the sunset and the sunrise. Overlooks on both sides of the top for those.

I took my 20-degree bag about three years ago in October and was fine, but here's a weather link for the GSMNP-
GSMNP weather. (http://www.outragegis.com/weather/grsm/)

01-09-2015, 18:38
Thanks to all. Have they changed the llamas to Tues and Thurs bc the Le Conte site says M W and F. No biggie but my son would like that but I dont want to miss going up Alum which we can only do on a weekend. Also I can only register for the shelter 30 days in advance correct? In other words, I cant register for the shelter now for September which appears from what you all have said would be the better time to attempt this. And yes I cannot wait to see sunset and sunrise - a huge reason we ( ok I) want to stay overnight! Thanks again!

01-09-2015, 18:53
oh.........i was just going off memory from about ten years ago on llamas.........didnt know that they publized that....

could call the lodge's main office and ask........

yes..........30 days in advance.......

and yes, sunrise from mytle point and sunset from cliff tops are pretty danged amazing...........

01-09-2015, 21:53
Ok I will definitely check as the time gets nearer. Thanks for helping me narrow it down!

01-10-2015, 02:12
The llamas have always been M/W/F (and the LeConte Lodge FAQ page confirms this to currently be true). The wording makes is sound like llamas are not guaranteed on these days. I would assume that these are the scheduled dates, and that based on weather, the schedule might be modified as needed.

You never know exactly who will show at LeConte. But there is a ranger around the lodge between spring and fall, and he usually checks on the shelter during the evening... making sure people have there permits and etc.

If Alum is only going to be open on the weekends, and you want to see the llamas, then the obvious choice is to hike up Alum on Sunday and down Trillium on Monday. You could do it the other way around... Hike up Trillium on Friday and down Alum on Saturday. But since you're likely to get started with your hike in the morning when the llamas are going uphill, it will be easier to be hiking down Trillium in the morning to ensure that you pass the llamas. Otherwise, you spend the day either waiting on the llamas to catch up to you, or your chasing the llamas up the trail.

I have travelled to LeConte lodge in the later half of September for going on 20 years now. The over-all average weather pattern that time of year on top of LeConte is day time highs in the upper 50's to lower 60's. Night time lows are usually around 40, though I've spent a morning watching sunrise in below freezing weather. And some years the night time lows are in the 50's. Seems like the warmer the weather, the roudier the people on the mountain are. If you are worried about the weather, you could try to get a reservation at the Lodge where you would get a cabin with a gas heater to keep you warm. But that's not cheap (>$100/person).

Looking at the climate data for the park, May is usually has slightly cooler weather than September (3-4 degrees) and a slightly higher chance of rain. In the 20 years that we've hike to LeConte in September, we've only once hiked all day in "rain" (not pouring, not sprinkling, just a steady rain). We've had light showers about 3 times, and fair weather for all the rest.

From what I recall, LeConte Lodge serves a bottomless cup of coffee/hot choc/lemonaid to hikers for $3/person (i.e. people who are NOT over-night guests at the Lodge). They also have a filtered water source that hikers are welcome to use so that you can leave your water filter at home.

You can make back country reservations starting 30 days from the start of your trip. That means you could actually try to reserve a spot at LeConte Shelter 31 days in advance if you wanted to spend two nights in the back country. Rather than going up Alum, you could go up Boulevard, with an over night stay at Ice Water Springs. Given all the work they are about to do to improve Alum, you might even want to do that now and wait until the work is complete on Alum before hiking up that way. Boulevard is our favorite way to get to LeConte. A two night hike that includes Ice Water Springs shelter would allow you the time (and energy) to include a side trip to "The Jump Off". This is an unmaintained trail about 0.3 miles long that is off the Boulevard trail just after the AT/Boulevard trail junction. It takes you to a cool view where you'll quickly come to understand the trails name. Even though this is an unmaintained trail, there is a park service sign where it connects to the Boulevard, so you'll have no problems finding it.

01-10-2015, 04:37
"...are we likely to avoid the partying crowd - either day or thru hikers? I really dont' want to be stuck in a shelter with my kid and a bunch of drunks."

I doubt that you'll have that problem. It takes considerable time and effort to reach the top of Le Conte from any direction, so it may not attract local people who are simply looking for somewhere to party. The mountains have more accessible party venues, spots near roads where people can drink in the woods without having to walk very far. The optimistically named Boulevard Trail, between Ice Water Springs and Le Conte, has lots of ups and downs. And, for better or worse, Le Conte is far enough from the AT that most thru hikers are unlikely to detour there.

I second HooKooDooKoo's suggest above that you and your ten year old son visit Le Conte as part of a two night trip. And, yes, I also like the Boulevard trail. You could begin late in the day at Newfound Gap, walk up to Ice Water Springs (just 2.3 miles, but aerobically challenging) and spend your first night at the shelter there. During summer hikes I've stayed at Icewater on four occasions and at the LeConte Shelter one time. I was not alone during any of those particular shelter nights, but my fellow overnighters were always well behaved. I've not yet encountered "shelter drunks" anywhere near the AT.

01-10-2015, 10:40
Thanks for the ideas! While I would love to do the 2 night Boulevard trail, my son is not yet that into backpacking and I dont want to scare him off. I will do this on a separate trip with my hiking buddies! Up Alum and down Trillium has already been chosen in the hopes it will hook him on backpacking! I do appreciate the great advice!

01-10-2015, 14:09
20 deg bag will be fine
You will have company but lrolly not thru hikers
Watch sunset from little cliff tops which is right down from cliff tops. Stellar views and less people.
I would take the at to boulevard trail to leconte. Very scenic and although longer, great walking. Good luck.

01-10-2015, 15:38
Keep in mind, the llamas get up and off the mountain pretty early......

the one time I have seen the llamas coming down trillium gap, it was noon (and on a Thursday).......

the handler and the llamas are strong hikers and they move fast.....

i was surprised to see them and surprised to see them being almost all the way down the mountain by noon time.....

also, I second the side trip going out to jump off but sometimes the sign is missing (it wasn't there 2 years ago when I was in that area).......but it's a fairly defined side trail....

01-10-2015, 21:51
Last time I was there the sign was gone also. Of you do go, Watch for ice at the upper portions of the boulevard trail on the northern side. It can be tricky in some spots.

01-11-2015, 13:50
I've never encountered ice along the Boulevard in late September.

I thought I saw a sign for The Jumpoff when I was there last year, but since I already know where the trail is located, I could obviously be mistaken. But for anyone looking for it, it is located in less than 0.1 miles from the AT/Boulevard intersection, on the right if you are hiking the Boulevard toward LeConte.

01-11-2015, 15:36
Thanks for the tips on Boulevard and Jump Off. If it were just me or me and other adults, I would do Boulevard in a heartbeat. I have heard too many bad things about the partying atmosphere at Ice Water to subject my child to that. Just too risky for me to take the chance. I do plan to do both trips this year hopefully and I very much appreciate all the good advice! Happy trails!

01-11-2015, 17:22
No need to stay at icewater. You can easily hike from newfound gap to the leconte shelter . It's a little distance but very easy.

01-11-2015, 20:17
well there is that 600 ft drop and thousand foot climb.

Emerson Bigills
01-11-2015, 21:06
I have only stayed at Leconte shelter once and hiked through the park on the AT one other trip. On neither trip did I experience hikers partying in the shelters. Both trips were in September and aside from one 2 hour rain shower, the weather was spectacular. The great fellowship and comraderie was one of the best memories of the trip. Icewater Springs is a very cool shelter site. If you don't stay there this trip, it should be in one of your future plans.

I think your desire to not "overdo" the trip from your son's perspective is a very important aspect to consider. You will do fine.

01-11-2015, 21:25
Thanks to all. I think I now I have a good idea of what I would like to do. I am not at all intimidated by Boulevard - like I said I would prefer it if it were just me or me and my friends who have backpacked before. But my son is a computer geek who only sorta likes the hiking - moreso if it involves fishing. Thats why I sticking with the shortest route and hopefully quite scenic for him. And I am feeling better about trying his trip in September even though we have to wait longer. Again much appreciated!

01-12-2015, 00:04
I have heard too many bad things about the partying atmosphere at Ice Water to subject my child to that. Just too risky for me to take the chance.
The times I've been to Ice Water with a child, I didn't run into any 'party' crowd.

The 1st time was a day-hike to Charlie's Bunion that got cut short as it started to ran just before Ice Water. We took shelter in Ice Water where we had lunch and ran into some of the people staying at the shelter that night. One was a nice lady that had a card game with her that she pulled out and played games with my son until the rain let up. Then we and her entire party took a trip to The Jumpoff.

The 2nd time was an overnight trip on his 6th birthday to LeConte Lodge. The 1st day, we hiked from New Found Gap to Charlie's Bunion (buy way of Kempart Shelter) and back to Ice Water Springs shelter to stay the night. The online site showed the shelter as being full that night, but only about 7 people showed up. One of those was a guy introducing his girlfriend to backpacking. We played a game of Monopoly with the couple (I built a special set to take backpacking). The next day, we hike on to LeConte and stayed at the shelter. The third day was Boulevard/AT back to the car.

I could see there being a bit of a party crowd there on a really nice weekend, or more likely when the 'bubble' of thru hikers is passing by Ice Water and you have crowds of over 20 people trying to stay there. But still, I don't imagine Ice Water gets too many parties. It gets more use because it's pretty close to the road. But still, you have to hike about 3.5 miles over less than "easy" terrain (It's about a 1,000' climb from New Found Gap to the junction with Boulevard).

While I don't KNOW, I would expect the odds are greater for finding a party at Mt Collins or Davenport as these are much closer to the road than Ice Water. I think Ice Water just gets a lot of use from typical backpackers because it is relatively close to the road. It's a great "starting" point for various hikes.

01-12-2015, 11:00
I am very glad you had a great experience. I would hope to have the same experience. But I know someone who had to leave that shelter in the middle of the night bc a party goer almost threw up on her husband's head. I am sure as a parent that you can understand my concern. Again thanks for the replies! I will do Icewater just not with my kid until I can check it out for myself first. No offense but people have been known to misdirect naive and innocent tourists for amusement before. And I have heard as many bad stories as good, so I am going to err on the side of caution. Thanks!

01-12-2015, 11:32
It catches a lot of thru hikers that have just left gatlinburg and take a short day. I have come across some rowdy folks there but never anything too crazy. Davenport is ,by far, the party shelter in the smokies

01-12-2015, 11:39
Sorry wrong shelter. I was referring ing to icewater. Not much partying at leconte.

01-12-2015, 11:51
Thats why I asked specifically about Le Conte. I thought it would be somewhat "safer" than shelters closer to the AT. Thats also why I asked about May/September. I wasnt sure when the thru hikers went thru the Smokies. Sept is good and I am way less worried about SOBO hikers at that time than I would be NOBO thru hikers in May.