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Alum Cave Bluff Trail - Smoky Mountains Hike


If you're traveling from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Alum Cave Blufftake a drive down Newfound Gap Road and go about 8.6 miles eastbound, you won't regret it. By the time you reach 8.6 miles, you'll come to a couple of parking areas. Next to these spots a gravel path leads to The Grassy Patch and the start of a 2.3 mile hike to beautiful Alum Cave Bluff.

Summary: It's a tough choice of either a 4.6-mile round-trip or 5.1 miles on to LeConte Lodge for this moderately difficult hike. Allow about 3 and 1/2 hours to LeConte Lodge. The round-trip to the cave bluff takes about 2 and 1/2 hours. The Alum Cave Trail is the most popular and well-known route to Mount Le Conte.

Elevation: On the way to 6400 feet, you gain 2600 feet.

Features: 1993 summer storm damage, Arch Rock, Alum Cave Bluff, Inspiration Point

In this 4.6 mile (round-trip) hike Mother Nature's majesty and power are clearly demonstrated. The views are great, particularly at LeConte Lodge and Cliff Tops, and the trail is easy to traverse, even for children. I actually carried my sleeping daughter on my shoulder during an earlier visit (I was in a little better shape then) for the majority of the first half of the hike.

The Grassy Patch just off the parking area is where this hike begins. You will parallel the Alum Cave Creek for approximately a mile after entering the forest. From there you'll follow Styx Branch, a main tributary of Alum Cave Creek. Eventually you'll come upon the boulder and log remains of a 1993 flash flood and landslide on your left, a few hundred yards beyond Styx Branch. That thunderstorm dumped several inches of rain, so much that some boulders were exposed and tossed from their perch. The remnants of the storm are still clear to this day and probably will be for years to come.

Arch Rock can be seen at mile 1.5. Here a set of stone stairs assist the hiker's passage through one of the park's few natural arches. You come upon Inspiration Point at the 1.8 mile mark - the first panoramic view of the area. Low shrubbery permeates this area, and soon you'll arrive at the Alum Cave Bluff (mile 2.3). But don't take the Alum Cave on name alone. Its actually not a cave, but a jutting ledge of black slate that extends out over the trail, thus giving the impression of a cave. The name Alum Cave came about after deposits of alum were found along the "cave" walls.

For those hardy souls who want to continue on to LeConte Lodge, just keep on the trail as it will curve up and around the bluff and begin to follow the ridge that forms Mount Le Conte's southern flank.

Two hundred yards from Le Conte Lodge's finish, Rainbow Falls Trail parallels the path from the left. Le Conte Lodge consists of two lodges, a dining room, and several wood-shingled cabins. The lodge has no electricity and water is pumped from a spring into holding tanks. Llamas are even used to haul in supplies, but that's a story in itself. Anyone interested in making reservations for LeConte Lodge should call (865) 429-5704.

Cliff Top, one of the best vantage points in the Smokies, can be found above the lodge. The views are said to be some of the best in the park when not obscured by misty clouds.

Be sure to take a knapsack and carry a few extra items if your trek to Alum Cave Bluff is a day-hike. And take a snack and some bottled water. One rule to live by, do not drink the water out of a park stream without boiling it first. Despite being invitingly cool and deceptively clear, these streams contain bacteria and if you drink from them you're likely to ruin the rest of your trip.

A few other suggestions might include finding a place to store a camera. If you are staying at LeConte Lodge overnight, you'll surely be carrying a backpack. And be sure to include all the necessary items and arrangements needed for your stay at the lodge. For overnight stays in the backcountry, a backcountry permit is required. Some campsites are reserved in advance. Permits may be obtained at visitors centers or by calling (865) 436-1231.

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