Hike to Mt. LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail
Many outdoor enthusiasts who visit the Smoky Mountains end up making the trek up to Mt. LeConte, the third largest peak in the national park at 6,593 ft. The Alum Cave Trail is the shortest and steepest of the five trails leading to the four separate peaks of this Smoky Mountain massif. Often considered Le Conte's most scenic route, the most common footpath for hikers seeking to reach the summit is filled with breath taking vistas and outlooks to enjoy the majestic surrounding landscape.
A Rich Local History at Alum Cave
The first recorded account of Alum Cave goes back to 1837 when three farmers from North Carolina applied at the Sevier County Land Office for a grant of a 50-acre tract of land that included Alum Cave and its salt deposits. After Tennessee sold the men the land on December 6, 1838, the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company was formed to mine the deposit. Here, alum, Epsom salt, saltpeter, magnesia, and copperas were mined for many years. In the Civil War, confederates used saltpeter in the cave to manufacture gun-powder.
Natural Wonders Along the Alum Cave Trail
There are many iconic natural wonders along the Alum Cave Trail that many hikers have grown to love and appreciate for their uniqueness and natural beauty.
The first natural landmark you'll encounter on your hike is Arch Rock. This large black slate rock has been shaped by erosion from freezing and thawing throughout the millennia to create a large natural arch. Hikers get to encounter the arch up close as they climb up stairs, gripping onto still cables, through the cold, moist rock.
At Inspiration Point, guests can enjoy looking at Little Duck Hawk Ridge on clear days and other views of the surrounding landscape on clear days.
Guests can look through the Eye of the Needle shortly after Inspiration Point.
Alum Cave Bluff, though not a true cave, is a splendid rock shelter with the iconic bright red clay of the Smoky Mountains. The bluff is at 4,950 feet in elevation and provides a great spot to rest before continuing up to the summit or heading back down the trail. Here is a short video tour of the bluffs.
If you do decided to head up to the summit, you'll also encounter Gracie's Pulpit. Named after Gracie McNichol (who famously hiked the trail on her 92nd birthday, a total of 155 times on foot, and 89 times on horseback), marks the halfway point of the trail.
Once you reach the summit, you'll find the LeConte Lodge. This lodge provides the only commercial lodging in the national park and offers day hikers a chance to enjoy a sack lunch or a beverage after their ascent. There several overlooks on top of Mt. LeConte including "Cliff Tops" and "Myrtle Point."
What to Expect on Your Alum Cave Trail Hike
There is so much to see along this scenic trail, but what is the hike itself like. The short, steep trail provides its challenges. It takes around 7-8 hours round trip to get to the summit, and about half that to just hike to the Alum Bluff Cave. Many hikers find the incline of this day hike challenging, so you should keep your fitness level in mind when considering this trail.
In addition to the incline, guests should keep in mind that, in the winter, this trail can be hazardous. With slick stairs at Arch Rock and icicles that reach up to 3 feet in length at Alum Bluff Cave, hikers should watch out for these dangerous features on the trail.
All in all, Alum Cave Trail provides a scenic trail up to the beautiful summit of Mt. LeConte. Filled with old-growth forest, fragrant spruces, and breathtaking vistas, this trail will take your breath away with its natural splendor.
So pack your backpack, head out from one of our Pigeon Forge, TN cabins, and explore the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains!
Written by Brittany Tipton