Alum Cave Bluff: The Hike & The History

Alum Cave Bluff is located on the southern side of Mount LeConte about 2.3 miles into Alum Cave Trail. Because of the short distance and great scenery, it is one of the more popular - if not the most popular - hikes on this side of the national park.

Trailhead for Alum Cave Bluff

Getting To The Bluff

The trailhead for Alum Cave Bluff is located along Newfound Gap Road between the Chimney Tops parking lot and Newfound Gap. There are a couple of parking lots here that tend to become very crowded as the day progresses, so it's best to arrive as early as possible. Keep in mind that this mountain road is often closed in the winter depending on weather conditions. The best way to find out the current status is by checking Smokies Road Info on Twitter.

Entrance to Arch Rock
Entrance to Arch Rock

Arch Rock

There are several notable landmarks on the hike to Alum Cave Bluff. The first one is just 1.4 miles in and is known as Arch Rock, a unique formation from an icy era long ago. The gap in the rock was formed from repeatedly freezing and thawing. Hikers must pass through the rock up a series of steps after a short footbridge over Styx Branch. This is a popular photo spot and can get clogged up with many people, so try to keep moving along after getting your picture.

The Eye of the Needle as seen from Inspiration Point
The Eye of the Needle as seen from Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point

Just a little further into the trail around the 2 mile marker, you'll find yourself in a heath bald with some extraordinary views. This area just before Alum Cave Bluff is known as Inspiration Point. From here you have great views of the surrounding mountains and Little Duck Hawk Ridge, at the top of which is the Eye of the Needle - a gap in the rock formation making for a unique sight. It's easier to see when the light hits it in the afternoon.

A common misconception about Alum Cave Bluff is that it is an actual cave. Its actual scientific designation is that a rock shelter. The cave-like overhanging is about 100 feet above the ground. During the winter, large icicles form here, making it very dangerous for hikers.

Vantage point from Alum Cave Bluff

Alum Cave Bluff

Continue on for just 0.3 of a mile further to reach Alum Cave Bluff. You'll know you're close when you reach what appears to be an endless amount of stairs. Head up the relentless steps and before you know it, you'll spot the overhanging rocky cliffs of the bluff just ahead. There is plenty of standing room under the rock wall, and the entirety of the area is quite difficult to photograph because it is so vast.

One thing about Alum Cave Bluffs than many hikers will immediately notice is the smell. It's not necessarily a bad or good smell; it's just unique enough that you'll remember it. This is due to the unique combination of minerals found in the dusty bluff. Many of these minerals are found in the driest parts of the world.

Alum Cave Trail 1939

History Of Alum Cave

In 1837, three farmers from Oconaluftee in North Carolina (Ephraim Mingus, Robert Collins, and George W. Hayes) applied for a grant for this specific tract of land. The 50 acre plot would include Alum Cave Bluff & access to its large supply of minerals like alum, magnesia, saltpeter, and especially magnesium sulfate. The state of Tennessee sold it on Dec 6, 1838, and later the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company was formed in order to mine the area. It took about 3 years for the salts to become depleted, however, mining continued during the Civil War.

Continuing Past Alum Cave

While the views along the first 2.3 miles of this trail are quite grand, the most spectacular scenery lies beyond the bluff. If you continue on for just 2.7 more miles, you will reach the summit of one of the tallest mountains on the east coast. Alum Cave Trail is the shortest route to the top of Mount LeConte.

Hike To LeConte

Promoted For You

You Might Also Like

By continuing to use our website, you are accepting the use of cookies. For more information please read our privacy policy.