Boulevard Trail

Richard Adams and I (Ron Metcalfe) hiked to LeConte Lodge on Sunday, August 10, 2008. Neither of us had been on the Boulevard Trail, and it was the only one that I had never taken to Mt. LeConte. We had debated hiking back out the Boulevard or hiking down Alum Cave Bluff and hitching a ride back to Newfound Gap. At the top, I told Richard that I was definitely taking the shorter ACB trail. I offered to let him go down Trillium Gap (the only one he hadn’t done), and I would pick him up. So we went our separate ways and both completed all the trails to Mt. LeConte.

Some statistics and notes about the Boulevard Trail. It’s easy to look at the elevation at Newfound Gap (5,046 feet) and compare that to the elevation of Mt. LeConte (6,593 feet) and think “Well, that’s only 1,500 feet of climbing, compared to 2,500 feet of climbing on Alum Cave Bluff, or the over 3,000 feet gained on Rainbow Falls, Bullhead, or Trillium Gap.” However, the Boulevard is an up-down-up-down-up-up-up kind of trail. You climb approximately 1,100 feet along the 2.7 miles of Appalachian Trail. Once you turn onto the Boulevard, you gain just a few more feet before beginning a 500 foot decline over the next 3/4 mile. Then you climb back up to Anakeesta Knob – about 400 feet gain in 1 1/2 miles – then drop back down 200 feet in 1/2 mile. After 3/4 of a mile of “relatively” level trail, you begin the most strenuous part of the hike. The next 1 1/2 miles climbs 800 feet to the summit at High Top. From High Top to the Lodge itself is about 1/2 mile of downhill. So, in the 8 miles total length, you are hiking uphill for 4.7 miles, and downhill for 3.4 miles. While the NET gain is only 1,317 feet from the parking lot to the lodge, you have climbed 3,724 total feet. The difference (2,406 feet) is the amount of elevation you have lost in all the descents. That’s not meant to scare you off the Boulevard, just to inform you, as I’ve heard people remark that the Boulevard must be the “easiest” since your starting elevation is higher than any other. Boulevard is a beautiful trail, and a beautiful hike, with wonderful views, and magnificant trees and flowers and shrubs; BUT, be ready for that last push.
The Boulevard Trail doesn’t actually begin at the Newfound Gap parking lot. You must hike 2.7 miles north on the AT before reaching the Boulevard Trailhead. The first few hundred feet of the trail consists of log steps, which are spaced just far enough apart that you can’t really get into a good rhythm. After that, there is a rocky area as the trail turns to the left. The trail is a steady climb, not too difficult, but pretty consistent. There are occasional views of Newfound Gap Road on the Cherokee side of the mountain. Most of the trail, both the AT and Boulevard, follow very near the ridgeline. In some areas, you can look to your left and right and the mountain falls away on both sides. It’s not dangerous, but it is fantastic to know you are on the very very top of the ridge. Rather than being covered in short heath growth, you are often walking through fir and spruce tunnels. In some areas, the trail opens up and you walk in sunshine and grass. Tunnel, sunshine, tunnel, sunshine. And there are a few lookouts along the ridge.

6 1/2 miles into the trail, and just over 1 1/2 miles from the Lodge, we began climbing again. We had 1,000 feet of elevation to gain (and re-gain) to the summit. I never was quite sure where the rock slide was on the Boulevard Trail, and I had assumed it was the large scar visible below Myrtle Point from the Alum Cave Bluff trail. However, I now realize that the slide on Boulevard is actually on the other side of the ridge, and is very similar to the one on Alum Cave Bluff trail, and although bigger in size, but is just as safe to cross. There are cables, and the trail is chiseled out of rock and is wide enough to be crossed safely. Just beyond the slide, as you turn toward Myrtle Point, is an area much more dangerous. A sharp drop-off right next to the trail. This part of the trail was the hardest to climb. The mile approaching the summit gains you about 700 feet in elevation. It wouldn’t be as hard if it didn’t come after already hiking 6 1/2 miles. There are a few areas that are quite steep, but they’re only a few yards in length till it regains a more gentle slope. But it’s steady, and it’s up, until you reach High Top.

We arrived at LeConte Lodge at 12:51 PM – 8 miles (almost exactly) in 4 hours, 27 minutes. We grabbed some rocking chairs on the office porch and had lunch as we watched low clouds drift over the summit. The thermometer read 61°, but there was a slight breeze, making it a bit cooler. After resting we set off for the hike down the mountain at 1:33 PM.

Ron P. Metcalfe
Mosheim, Tennessee

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