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Mount LeConte and Rainbow Falls via The Bullhead Trail

hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(198)
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.

Length 14.8 mi Elevation gain 3,959 ft Route type Loop

Backpacking

Hiking

Nature trips

Bird watching

Forest

Views

Wild flowers

Wildlife

No dogs

Description
Waypoints (0)
Facilities
Contact
Getting There

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.

Paved parking lot with an auxiliary parking lot about 0.1 miles further down the road. Rest rooms available at the trail head parking area.

Ranger Contact: GSMNP 865-436-1200

I-40 Exit 407 follow Hwy 66 South 8 miles to 441 South to Gatlinburg;turn left at traffic light #8, take Historic Nature Trail Dr. The road becomes one-way, turn right into Rainbow Falls Parking area. The trailhead is a path a few yards south into the woods, oppisite the paved road. (Lat:35.67575 Lon:-83.4869)

Weather
UV Index
Daylight
Reviews (198)
Photos (2622)
Recordings (81)
Completed (720)
Diane Herbert
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed Jul 08 2020
Hiking

We hiked up Rainbow and down Bull Head. Because of the fire, Bull Head has some great views since the trees along some sections of the trail were burned. However, with that being the case, it is much more open. So this would not be a good choice on a hot sunny summer day. Probably spring and fall would be the best time to ascend Bull Head. Rainbow trails has Rainbow Falls and quite a number of smaller falls. It is a beautiful trail but long. Good for those who love a long hike with beautiful lookouts along the way.

Devin Morris
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarTue Jun 30 2020
Hiking

Other reviews here explain it well, I’d just second what’s been said about Bullhead— if seeing and walking through the remains of a forest fire is your thing, then go for it. I didn’t find Bullhead that amazing, I guess the silver lining is I’m pretty sure it’s the Trail the “llamas” take back and forth between Leconte Lodge, so there aren’t many steps or big rocks aka easy on the knees if that’s something you need on the way down like my wife.

Kayla Hatcher
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 27 2020
Hiking

This was my first big hike. I may have been a little ambitious towards this hike. I am a 32 yo female who is in really good shape. I am very active and do CrossFit 5x week. This trail still kicked my tail. We started at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead and hiked Rainbow up to Mount Le Conte. The hike to Rainbow falls was pretty easy, very scenic and heavily trafficked. From Rainbow Falls up to Mount Le Conte, the hike is much more difficult and less populated. That trail narrows a good bit and the incline gets steeper. The last mile of the hike to Mount Le Conte is the worst part of the whole thing. It is straight up. But the views at the top are totally worth! We went up the Cliff Tops and checked out the views there. On the Rainbow falls trail there are a couple of spots that are bare from the fire damage, but those areas offer great viewing points. On the descend we decided to take Bullhead Trail down. This trail is longggg. It is not as scenic and very little traffic. The trails are goat trails at best in places. We didn’t see anyone for hours on this trail. We got to the point where there was a lot of fire damage on the trail and that’s where we got the best views on the way down. Got caught in some rain and a large part of this trail offers no canopy as coverage so make sure to have rain gear. We did not see any wildlife until we got to the end of Bullhead and finally saw a bear. Wish the wildlife had been more active. Overall, this was a great hike. We were completely exhausted by the end, but I would do it again. If possible, hike up the mountain and stay at the LeConte Lodge, then hike down the next day.

Carla Miller
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSun Jun 21 2020

Loved this route, we went up yesterday via RBF and came out Bullhead, stunning views on Bullhead, the remains of fire damage on this side was still very present, it nice to see things growing back. You need to check out Myrtle Point as well another .04 from shelter. First time staying at a shelter in GSM it was very nice and we were allowed to bring a tent due to current health concerns in the world. Highly recommend staying overnight at shelter to check everything out, you can get a permit on line it 4 per person a night they fill up quick so 14 days out be ready to try a get your spot.

Paulina Kocemba
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 20 2020
HikingNo shadeRocky

I’m 23 and fairly in shape. Def don’t hike a lot and this was our first long hike. Went on this trail with my bf. We did Rainbow falls on the way up which was beautiful. Def uphill so couldn’t get a little tiring but felt like an enchanted forest and covered by trees so nice and cool on an 85 degree summer day. Once we reached mount le conte, we went down the bullhead trail. Beautiful views but extremely rocky and no shade. This was def harder on the way down and the trail was so narrow with overgrown grass it was difficult to walk on at times. I have to say the views def made it worth it, but I couldn’t feel my feet or knees by the bottom. It’s also way more secluded, didn’t see a single person the whole way down. Very calming an peaceful but also kind of scary tbh to be alone on top of a huge mountain for hours. It was extremely hot!

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Denis Kuzelj
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarWed Jun 17 2020
HikingRocky

Took rainbow falls up and bullhead down. Very foggy, I guess that's why they call them smokey mountains. Terrain is somewhat rocky which only mattered going down. Grades on both are moderate but it can feel like a long way up if you are out of shape. If you are in decent shape it is not too difficult. From the lodge there is a small hike 0.2 miles to the cliffs. It is worth it. Don't let 0.2 miles intimidate you after you just hiked 7 miles up a hill. I ran into a bear. Lots of bear poop on both trails. You should carry bear spray at least. Go early, only a few parking spots were left at 0745.

Genna VV
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed Jun 17 2020
HikingRocky

Very difficult trail! We took Rainbow Falls up to Mt Le Conte and Mrytle Point and Bullhead back down. The first 3 miles to the falls were extremely rocky. On the way down, all the views on Bullhead were amazing. We’d certainly hike Bullhead again.

Mathew Fiegleman
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed Jun 03 2020
Hiking

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

Antoine Kaleta
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarMon Jun 01 2020
HikingMuddyOff trailRocky

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!

Nick Szoko
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat May 23 2020
Hiking

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.

Jarrod Williams
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat May 23 2020
Hiking

We took the Rainbow Falls, Mt. LeConte, Bullhead route because I hate doubling back and would rather do a loop hike. The route was about 16 miles for us and took 7 hours (plus another 30 minutes for breaks and lunch). This route was very strenuous as the first half is all uphill. Rainbow falls was very pretty and I would recommend that hike even if you weren't proceeding onto LeConte. There was a chance of rain the day we went but I was hoping the skies might clear by time we got to the summit. However, it didn't clear until we were on our return via Bullhead. So the summit itself was very disappointing. I loved the return via Bullhead which had great views. Overall, I'd recommend Rainbow Falls and Bullhead but to make it worthwhile, skip the hike if the weather is iffy.

Sherry Cotter
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarFri May 22 2020
BlowdownBugsFloodedMuddyOver grownRockyWashed out

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.

Josh Huntley
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat May 16 2020
Hiking

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.

Blazer 21
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed May 06 2020

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

Brooklyn Mussman
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarTue Mar 10 2020

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

Lindsey Grossheim
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSun Mar 08 2020
HikingIcySnow

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)

Morgan M.
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Mar 07 2020
HikingIcySnow

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

Galen Godbey
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarTue Feb 25 2020
Hiking

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.

Greg Kolbrich
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSat Feb 22 2020
HikingSnow
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