If you've never hiked Alum Cave Trail, odds are that you've at least heard of it. The famous 5 mile hike to the summit of the Gatlinburg massif is the most popular way to get to the top, and has so many amazing features along the way that many hikers only have to go about halfway up to make it worth their while. I've hiked this trail a number of times. Here are some of the most iconic features of this unique climb.
Arch Rock (1.4 m)
The first otherworldly feature you'll find on this trail begins with a footbridge into a monument-sized rock. You'll climb some very steep stairs through an opening about 20 feet wide. Arch Rock was formed during the last ice age, and the unusual structure was described by Wiley Oakley's father as a place where you could fish and stand out of the rain at the same time. Oakley told the park service about the rock in 1937 and they routed Alum Cave Trail right through it.
Inspiration Point (2.0 m)
Just a little further into the trail when it starts to open up and take a sharp right turn, you'll find yourself at Inspiration Point, a fine spot to rest and take in the surrounding views. In the depths of the surrounding heath bald is Huggins Hell, an impenetrable jungle of brush. The high peaks around you include Sugarland Mountain, Anakeesta Ridge (where the Boulevard passes through), and the Chimney Tops.
Eye Of The Needle (2.0 m)
Directly in front of you at Inspiration Point are two knife-like protrusions of rock called Little Duckhawk Ridge and Big Duckhawk Ridge, named after the peregrine falcons that once frequented the area. Look closely at the highest point of the former and you'll see the eye of the needle, a giant hole straight through the rock. It's a little easier to see on the way down in the afternoon.
The Steps (2.2 m)
It won't take you long after leaving Inspiration Point to reach the dreaded steps to Alum Cave Bluffs. Don't get me wrong; they're pretty useful on this steep hill. But the sight of them might take your breath away. If it doesn't, then the climb certainly will. Head up the log staircase to one of the most famous locations in the national park: Alum Cave Bluff or simply Alum Cave, where the trail gets its name.
Alum Cave Bluffs (2.3 m)
What's that smell? It's the smell of some extremely rare dirt at Alum Cave Bluff, a dusty rock overhang that you won't be able to get a complete photo of (but you will try). This unique location features some of the rarest, driest minerals in the world - oddly enough, in one of the wettest places in North America.Alum Cave Bluffs
Photo Tip: Standing under the cave and looking out, if you try to get a photo of the rock overhang and the scenery behind it, most phones have a hard time adjusting the focus and lighting just right. I've had the best luck pointing my phone's camera down, swinging it up quickly, and capturing a photo at the moment before my phone adjusts the lighting.
Gracie's Pulpit (2.6 m)
The unofficial halfway point to the summit of LeConte is a large rocky structure known as Gracie's Pulpit. While you can still get a good view of the mountain's peaks from this spot, the area is much more overgrown than it used to be. It was made famous by Gracie McNichol, who climbed this mountain many times, including on her 92nd birthday. You can read more about her in the short paperback Gracie and the Mountain.
Rockslide Opening (4.1 m)
The last mile of the trail yields some of the best views of any LeConte hike. One of my favorite spots is hard to miss: the trail passes over the obvious remains of an old rockslide. You'll find yourself standing in the middle of an awe-inspiring opening where the earth just fades away. The highest point visible from this part of the trail is Clingmans Dome, and on clear days you can spot it with the naked eye.
The Best View (4.5 m)
Wind your way around the mountain and you'll approach a stark cliffside on your right. As you continue forward you'll find yourself standing in front of the BEST photo opportunity on Alum Cave Trail. You'll know it when you see it! This is a great spot to get a fellow hiker to snap a picture of you in front of the Smoky Mountain majesty - including the ridges leading to the peak of Clingmans Dome - right behind you.
The Hallelujah Turn (4.7 m)
It's called the Hallelujah Turn because when you make this final climb and go around the bend, the trail flattens out beautifully, and you'll be thinking hallelujah! Even though you've only got about 0.3 of a mile left before reaching LeConte Lodge, the flat terrain will be a welcome change all the way to the finish line. And hey, you deserve it!LeConte Lodge
If you've never hiked Alum Cave Trail and would like to give it a go, check out the elevation profile and my first timer's guide to climbing LeConte. I am a pretty huge fan on this mountain and could write about it forever. As of May 2023, I've hiked to the lodge 18 times. Read more of my posts about Mt. LeConte if you're interested in hiking one of the 6 outstanding Smoky Mountain trails.
Caroline's GSM Hike Log