If you have limited time to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you need to cut to the chase and discover the best hiking trail.
There are over 850 miles of hiking trails and over 80 hiking routes. It can be difficult to research to find the ultimate hike. So here it is, the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte.
The Alum Cave Trail is a 5.5-mile hiking trail located a short drive from Gatlinburg. This popular trail takes hikers from Newfound Gap Road to LeConte Lodge near the summit of Mt. LeConte, the 3rd tallest peak in the Smokies.
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 8.7 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to reach the Alum Cave Trailhead. The parking lot will be on your left. Due to the extreme popularity of the Alum Cave Trail, there are two parking lots for this trailhead. To ensure a spot you may want to arrive early during peak tourist season, or on any nice weekend throughout the year.
The first section of the Alum Cave Trail, up to Arch Rock, travels over a fairly gentle grade. Hikers will follow Alum Cave Creek over the course of the first mile. Just before reaching Arch Rock, however, the trail begins following the Styx Branch. This section of trail is choked with rosebay rhododendron, which offers beautiful blooms during the early summer.
At just over 1.3 miles from the trailhead hikers will reach Arch Rock, the first prominent landmark along the trail. The arch was formed by freezing and thawing, which eroded away the softer rock from underneath the harder rock. The trail actually goes under the arch and requires a climb of several steps etched into the stone before exiting at the top.
Beyond Arch Rock the trail begins ascending towards Alum Cave. Anakeesta Ridge will dominate the views on your left throughout this stretch of trail. At roughly two miles from the trailhead hikers will reach the appropriately named Inspiration Point, a heath bald that offers commanding views of Little Duck Hawk Ridge to the west and Myrtle Point (near the top of Mt. LeConte) towards the northeast. The Eye of the Needle, a hole in the rock near the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge, can also be seen from this vantage point.
At 2.2 miles hikers will reach Alum Cave, which really isn’t a cave, but is actually a concaved bluff, about 80 feet in height, and roughly 500 feet in length. During the warmer months of the year water drips off from the ledges above. In the winter these droplets turn into large icicles.
Alum Cave Bluffs is a topic of the Cherokee Indians, who say their great Chief Yanugunski discovered the bluffs when tracking a bear. In the 1830s, a mining company used minerals from the bluffs to make clothing dyes.
Later, during the Civil War, the bluffs were used as a saltpeter mine to produce gunpowder for the Confederates. To help preserve this source of gunpowder, a Confederate fort was built near the modern day Newfound Gap Road to control this resource.
At the top of Mt. LeConte, you’ll find LeConte Lodge, a historic lodge that was indispensable in convincing significant backers to campaign for the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, were it not for LeConte Lodge, the national park might not even exist today.
Alum Cave is the shortest route to the summit of Mt. LeConte. Although it’s 11 miles round trip, it’s shorter than other trails in the Smokies. This hike is a full day, but it is a manageable distance for most hikers in the national park.
Rated strenuous, this hike is a gain of 2,763 feet in elevation and an average elevation gain per mile of 502 feet. Allow 7-8 hours to complete this hike, wearing appropriate clothing, and packing plenty of food and water.
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