A round trip of 4.4 miles, this trail starts with a pleasant walk through green canopies of rhododendrons, as you follow along a creek. The trail continues to give you plenty of nice photographic moments. The hike is moderate in difficulty but gets a little more strenuous as you close into the large overhang called Alum Cave. The scenery changes throughout the course of the trip, and there are several interesting geological features and pretty bridge crossings, which make this a great family hike. The “cave” is a great place to have lunch and reward yourself with a scenic view of the mountains. If you are wanting to do this hike, start as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
What Makes It Great
Any hike in the Smokies will provide great sights—this hike provides especially fantastic ones. Once you have begun climbing, several key (and incredibly interesting) landmarks will be passed. The trail actually goes under Arch Rock, the first key landmark (reached in just over a mile) and a great spot for a photo. Steps climb through the arch and show some of the geologic diversity that can be found in the Smokies. Continuing on, you will have expansive views from Inspiration Point. When you are looking out from this point, try to find the “Eye of the Needle,” a hole in the top of a rocky ridge nearby. Other than the views, the length of this trail is another great feature because of all that is available and seen within a short 4.5 miles. Many hikers set out to see the Alum Cave Bluff and end up enjoying the hike enough to continue on to the summit of Mount Le Conte. If you get to the “cave” and think that the views are spectacular, continuing on from there will not disappoint. Even if you do not wish to make it all the way to the top, continuing on provides increasingly great views as you go.
Who is Going to Love It
The short length of this hike makes it perfect for anyone. Families will love the accessibility of the car, and hardcore hikers will love the ability to continue on to the summit of LeConte. Alum Cave itself provides the perfect break spot, so feel free to take your time and enjoy the views out over the mountains from the turnaround point.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Parking for the Alum Cave Trail can be found on the main park road as it heads away from the Sugarlands Visitor Center towards Newfound Gap. There will be a roadside sign marking the trailhead, so park at the lot (which fills easily) and the trailhead will be quickly found. If you are planning to stay on LeConte, make sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Featured image provided by Snotgoblin