Mount LeConte and Rainbow Falls via The Bullhead Trail

hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(185)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mount LeConte and Rainbow Falls via The Bullhead Trail is a 14.8 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until November.

Distance: 14.8 miles Elevation Gain: 3,959 feet Route Type: Loop

backpacking

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

no dogs

The Bullhead Trail is an American hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. the trail ascends Mount Le Conter and offers outstanding views. The Bullhead Trail is the least traveled route to the summit of Mount Le Conte. The beginning of the Bullhead Trail is, for all intents and purposes, actually the trailhead to the Rainbow Falls Trail. Both trails are designated the same parking area, and because of their proximity (the two paths are separated only by a 0.3-mile (0.48 km) spur trail) many hikers choose to ascend one trail (usually the Rainbow Falls Trail) and descend the other. Given this, however, the trail is still the least popular route along Mount Le Conte, probably because of its isolation (in the woods, near to but away from its crowded neighbor trail) and that it contains no spectacular landmarks along its path. But it is this isolation that makes the trail so desirable to those who favor solitude when hiking.

hiking
3 days ago

I'm a man in his late 20s, physically in shape, not super athletic. Enjoy tough hikes. We hiked up Rainbow, had a beer at leConte lodge, kept on over the BLVD trail, got a spot in Icehouse Shelter, checked out Charles Bunion at sunset, next day we returned back early, got a morning coffee at the lodge, and then headed down Trilliam. This hike was TOUGH, but AMAZING. Several bears mid june. Gain up to LeConte was pretty darn tough! To get the most out of a weekend in the Smokes and for a really tough workout, I recommend this route. All parts were great

hiking
muddy
off trail
rocky
5 days ago

So, choose your destiny. You can go rainbow falls or bullhead to start. We did rainbow falls. Signs were everywhere to help you make sure you’re still set. Didn’t see bears but great views in multiple spots. Make sure to get there before 8AM main parking lot gets packed fast. If not there are spots everywhere. Some parts are very rocky and paths are small. Make sure to wear pants at least. Enjoy!

hiking
14 days ago

Hiked this trail on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend! Arrived to the parking lot at 7:15 AM and there were only a few cars already parked there (when I returned to my car in the afternoon, there was a line of cars a half-mile long waiting to get into the parking area!). I started with the Rainbow Falls Trail and it was lovely! Trail was well-maintained, only a few areas with mud due to recent rainfall. The creek above the falls was easy to cross at the time of my hike. The view from Mt. LeConte was obscured by heavy fog, so did not spend too much time at the top before making my way down Bullhead. There were several downed trees along the trail but none that were difficult to pass. It was a mild-moderate grade in both directions. My distance came in at about 15 miles even. It took me 5.5 hours to complete this loop at a moderate pace.

blowdown
bugs
flooded
muddy
over grown
rocky
washed out
15 days ago

We completed this trail today and enjoyed it so much better than the over crowded Alum bluff to LeConte. we started up Bullhead and down Rainbow falls. The elevation gain on Bullhead is mainly at the beginning and last half mile from leconte. The trail was very quiet and cloudy so no views due to the rain but enjoyed the solitude. There was many many blowdown trees but nothing too hard to maneuver around. Rainbow falls was a complete mud pit due to all the rain we have had and very rocky. Loved this route all and all.

hiking
20 days ago

I completed this trail on May 12th. It’s 14.4 miles. I started with the Rainbow Falls trail and continued up to LaConte there was some snow near the top but nothing to worry about. All the facilities at the top were closed. I took the Bullhead trail down there are a ton of trees down on this trail. Still very passable and so much different than the Rainbow Falls trail. Both trails offer a very moderate grade that is pretty easy.

1 month ago

Are there any back country campsites within a mile or two of this trail??

2 months ago

It said 12.8 but I tracked closer to 15 or so. The falls side is a much nicer hike, but not possible after heavy rain due to crossing streams. The bull head side had lots of trees still in the path and was a much tougher hike than the other side. It's very pretty and I reccomend doing the whole loop of you can. Make sure to bring lots of water and have almost a full day to hike! Would do this hike again

hiking
icy
snow
2 months ago

This trail was amazing. My boyfriend and I hiked it in about 7.5 hours (including a 45 minute stop at the top.) We loved every minute. We both HIGHLY recommend starting from the rainbow falls side. This allows for smoother acclimation (in our opinion. The hills just weren’t nearly as bad.) It was amazing! Bring water, sunscreen, and snacks)

hiking
icy
snow
2 months ago

Loved this hike, quite a challenge so make sure you go early! and bring food! The first part of the trail had more water and coverage from the sun and the second part of the loop after leconte had more views of the mountains. Very ICY but that’s what made it soooooo BEAUTIFUL (: I was in awh of the different faces of the mountains and the elevation gain I was slaying! It’s best done early if you want to do the whole loop. I really enjoyed Cliff Top views

hiking
3 months ago

2/21/20 - saw a window in the dreary February weather and jumped at the chance for an evening hike. Heavy snowfall awarded/condemned all of the trailblazing to my lone locomotion. Mucho dead and windfall covering upper portions of the trail. Planned to have a bit more time at Cliff Tops, but the shin-deep snow slowed my progress. Luckily, I still summited in time to enjoy a fantastically rare evening cloud inversion (uploading a couple of pictures). The place was mine alone. And, the trek back was as dark as ever, but I enjoyed views of the Milky Way when I slowed enough to notice. Bullhead is notorious for roughness. In ways, though, the ice and snow seemed to help smooth the path. Total time 5:59. GPS’d miles = 15.15 round trip.

It appeared that without a signal the APP was not updating until I would hit a a moment of signal.

hiking
flooded
icy
snow
5 months ago

This is an amazing loop and would highly recommend doing it :) Few things to know before you go: - Trails are very well marked but not necessarily maintained in the winter. So expect some fallen trees on the way - We had significant snow up top with temperatures dropping quite a bit. I would keep an eye on the weather on the mountain before the start - Limited water but plenty of stream crossing along the way. - Rainbow trail can get closed if there is lot of rain and the streams swell up

Very nice hike, constant slope not steep, well marked. Recommend

hiking
6 months ago

The Ultimate Smoky Mountain Hiking Experience. At 5:30 in the morning, the Rainbow Falls Trailhead is pitch black and wonderfully lonely. Headlamp strapped to my noggin, I began a fast-paced acscent with a goal in mind: To reach Rocky Spur by sunrise. That meant covering the first 3 miles or so of the trail in darkness. I wanted that sunrise. Yet so much more would be waiting for me. Rainbow Falls Trail climbs at a steady pace along a beautifully improved trail, thanks to Trails Forever. Through most of the journey you'll mosey along Leconte Creek, weaving between enormous boulders and towering trees. At one point on my darkened sojourn, I happened upon one of the burned areas from the 2016 fire. With no canopy above me, the heavens were salted with brilliant stars numbering in the millions. I sighed with joy and continued my trek upwards. When I reached the Falls it was still dark, so I didn't get to take them in as most hikers do. But one can find a hundred lovely photographs of it here or on Google, and my quarry was further up the mountain. After the Falls, the trail narrows, its brown walkway beaten down by far fewer boots than the path below. The course zig-zags across the drainage and up the flank of Rocky Spur. As the world around me lightened with a purple, pink and then orange glow, I crested the spur amid the black broken spokes of burned trees and gasped at the sight before me. I was on an island above a sea of clouds. As far as I could see, fog cloaked the ground below and hugged the peaks rising above it. It was the perfect place to pause for a snack and take in the majesty of the Smokies. The rest of the climb up Rainbow is solitary and relatively steep, slowlying curling toward the Bullhead Trail intersection roughly half-mile below Leconte Lodge. From here, the climb is grueling and slow, especially after the 6.6 exhilerating miles that have come before. At the top, I had the choice of continuing to the Lodge where a rocking chair and cup of coffee were surely waiting, or to climb a little more up to Cliff Tops. I chose Cliff Tops, and so should you. The trail is broken and ragged, but the reward on top is a panoramic view of jaw-dropping beauty. The entire northwestern stretch of the Smokies lay before me, and I was blessed to drink it in while rejuvenating my strength with 1,000 calories or so of trail mix. From there, the scramble back down to the Lodge is an easy, gleeful adventure. The way down Bullhead is a tale of three distinct experiences. I can't imagine what this road was like before the 2016 fire, though history tells that eventually the forest will reclaim the views that sweep the middle miles of this incredible trek. Atop the mountain, I strolled down a leaf-covered path through a pleasant woodland. Clouds blowing past enveloped the mountaintop or passed by like airborn buses. Before long, though, the trail breaches the treeline onto an exposed balcony that winds its way down the mountain through miles of scarred wasteland. The terrain is especially haunting as the clouds blow past, like smoke emanating from lingering fires. Eventually I passed the Pulpit, a table-sized pile of rocks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, that used to be the only way to steal a view over the trees. Now it is a strange relic in the ash-charred cemetery of tree stumps and naked stones. The Bullhead switches back, plunging down cliffsides under moss-speckled monoliths the size of tractor-trailers. Even though I was in a hurry to reach the bottom, I paused again and again to take more pictures of the Roaring Fork region clearly visible from the many platforms where the trail doubled back on itself. Finally, nursing my sore knees and feet, I felt the trail level out beneath my feet as it lopes through a peaceful forest until it reaches the Old Sugarlands Trail. Simply put, this was the most thrilling and delightful hike I've ever experienced in the Smokies. Others have certainly been fun, beautiful, and exciting, but never like this. The Rainbow Falls-Bullhead Trail Loop is unlike any other hiking loop in the park. If you're trained up and ready for the distance and altitude, it is a must do for your hiking bucket list.

hiking
8 months ago

Nice trail ! Not many views for the distance you have to cover but it was definitely a nice hike. Easy up and down but just very far. I wasn’t interested in seeing the cabins so I skipped that and went to myrtle point (an extra 2 miles or so total ). Myrtle point was amazing and saw 3 people the whole hour I was up there . Would definitely recommend adding this to your hike if you want to see some amazing views. Also the waterfall was almost totally dry , the whole area after about mile 3 has no water , you can refill at the cabins though.

Showing results 1 - 16 of 184