Trails I've Hiked: Spend the Night At LeConte Lodge In Great Smoky Mountains National Park

LeConte Lodge, the only accommodations inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is worth the hike to your cabin. Randy Johnson photos.

The overnight experience found at the Great Smokies' LeConte Lodge entices regulars to return year after year.

This video by Randy Johnson, author of Best Easy Day Hikes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nicely captures the magic of this quintessential national park accommodation.

Check out Randy's Web site at www.randyjohnsonbooks.com for other titles like "Hiking North Carolina," "Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway."

There's nothing wrong with backpacking—it's an authentic national park experience available all over the United States. But the Europeans have it right—there is a role for an easier overnight option in the backcountry. The high "huts" of Europe's Alps, where comfy beds and meals make it possible to experience the roof of the Continent without camping, are an approach less than widely available in America. Luckily, there are some locations where a "hut hike" is possible—and LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of them.

It's not easy to find a "convenient" reservation at LeConte, but anyone with the flexibility to take any open slot that's available won't find it impossible to check-in at the lodge atop the Smokies most distinctive summit. That’s what vacation days are for—and they’re well-spent atop LeConte. The best way to reserve for the lodge may be to start your efforts when 2012 reservations open on October 3, 2011. Visit www.leconte-lodge.com/reservations_2011.html for details on how to find a pillow among the clouds.

Don't expect a lot of entertainment options beyond cards or reading in the main lodge room. After walking a short distance away to Cliff Tops for summit views, all there is to do is watch Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge emerge as twinkling lights, far below and a world away. Down there, somebody’s planning on going to Dollywood. After that view, a great overnight experience awaits. Cozy cabins, propane heat, flickering lamp light, Hudson Bay blankets, and hearty meals that can include wine at dinner will give anyone an "above it all" escape from the mundane.

Climate is a big part of the appeal of LeConte—you are indeed way up there. There’s often snow and ice in spring and fall (the 2011 season runs from late March to late November) and even the height of summer is chilly at these heights.

Beyond the Smokies—

New Hampshire

The Appalachian Mountain Club's awesome huts, distributed along the Appalachian Trail across New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest, are another noteworthy "hut hike." The oldest of those huts, Madison Hut, has been rebuilt this year. The original structure was built in 1888, and the latest building hails from 1941. The eight huts, plus valley AMC lodgings in Crawford and Pinkham notches, are the East's premier Euro-style hut system.

Europe

Don't miss hiking the huts of the Alps. Check out this story and video about hiking the spectacular huts in Austria, including Hohe Tauern National Park.