December 10, 2022
Warm winter days in the Smokies are few and far between. When one comes, you must take advantage of it. The projected high in Gatlinburg was 61 degrees, so we had a nice window to grab some higher-elevation trails. I had three trails left in the eastern portion of the park: Brushy Mountain, Ramsey Cascades, and Trillium Gap. The former two are temporarily closed or limited, so we decided to hike Trillium.
Starting from Cherokee Orchard Road Trailhead, we hiked up Rainbow Falls (again). Starting just after sunrise at 7:30 am, we saw few people. The trail was unremarkable until we ascended an exposed cliff that gave some monumental views of below. There was a temperature inversion, and the clouds were trapped, enshrouding Gatlinburg and the surrounding Tennessee countryside. Even though it was warmer than usual, the temperature is always much cooler on Mt. LeConte, a 15- to 20-degree difference on average. Mountain Forecast is a wonderful and trusted source of weather in the mountains. As of the writing of this article (12/17/22 at 7:29 am), the current temperature at the top of LeConte is 23 degrees, while the temperature in Gatlinburg is 41.
As we ascended the summit, a sharp wind funneled into the hollows, bringing along frigid temperatures. The cold was compounded by the sweat from the climb. After a quick lunch near the summit, we began Trillium. This trail is extremely nice. It is mostly rocky for the first couple of miles but is not that tough. In ice it would be dangerous. Rumor has it that LeConte Lodge workers take Trillium Gap Trail to carry supplies to LeConte Lodge, using llamas as pack animals. In fact, just prior to Twin Falls, there was a large quantity of llama droppings.
At Trillium Gap, the trail intersects with the Brushy Mountain Trail. The trail has three intersections, but both are for Brushy. Trillium becomes extremely nice after this, with a steady descent and not as many rocks. Popular among tourists, Grotto Falls is several miles below this intersection and is a nice attraction. The trail goes under the falls and the roar is deafening.
Soon we arrived at the parking lot, filled to the brim with folks. It was nice to beat the crowd and cold and hike a wonderful trail.
Total mileage is 15.6 miles.