High atop a mountain in the nation’s most visited national park is a lodge no “windshield tourist” will ever see. It’s the only remaining lodging within the park’s borders – a place with no telephones, no televisions, no electricity, no running water and some very sketchy cell service. The place is LeConte Lodge, named for the mountain peak upon which it rests. And it is the enduring legacy of Estel Carl “Jack” Huff.
In 1926, Huff took over a tent camp atop Mt. LeConte started a year earlier by Paul Adams, a member of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association – the group that eventually succeeded in getting national park status for the Smokies.
Huff was the son of hotelier Andrew Huff, owner of the Mountain View Hotel, arguably the finest hotel of its time in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Mountain View, along with recently constructed logging roads and rails, had helped to open the Smoky Mountains to outsiders for the first time, transforming Gatlinburg from a sleepy mountain village to a tourist mecca in the process.
The younger Huff wanted to offer a more authentic experience to the more adventurous of visitors to the Smokies. LeConte Lodge was the answer. He began building the lodge not only for visitors but as a home for himself. It couldn’t have been easy work, as the lodge was only reachable via trail. All supplies had to be carried up either on one’s back or by pack horses. (Huff was known for carrying his aging mother up to the lodge in a special chair strapped to his back.) Eight years after acquiring the lease to LeConte’s summit, Jack Huff married wife Pauline atop the mountain. Together, with the help of their children, they ran the lodge until 1959.
If you want to visit Jack Huff’s legacy today, there are two things you need to know: 1. You had better be in shape. The lodge is still only accessible by trail. Even the easiest of these trails can take hours and climb several thousand feet. 2. Make reservations. Though the lodge store and dining hall are open to through-hikers, reservations to stay in one of the lodge’s rustic cabins are typically made over a year in advance. A few of our contributors here at Real Southern Men have made the trip, and trust us, it’s worth the wait and the climb.