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Alum Cave - Cliff Top Out and Back

Difficult
 4.8 (241) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A classic hike in the smokies with excellent views, log bridges, and a giant bluff.


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Map Key

10.7

Miles

17.3

KM

Out and Back

6,540' 1,993 m

High

3,856' 1,175 m

Low

2,773' 845 m

Up

2,773' 845 m

Down

10%

Avg Grade (6°)

25%

Max Grade (14°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Cave · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers

Family Friendly A beautiful trail with lots of scenery and excellent views.

Overview

In order to reach Mt. LeConte, visitors can expect to hike ~5.5 miles (one way) with over 2,700 feet in elevation gain. Proper footwear is recommended as, although the trail is fairly well made, certain sections can become icy and slippery depending on weather and time of the year. Luckily, recent trail restorations have made the trail a bit wider and easier to travel. The trail is fairly gradual with minimal steep sections, although proper footwear is recommended.

Description

Alum Cave Trail starts out fairly easy and gradual, running parallel to Alum Cave Creek for about a mile. It then switches on to Styx Branch, eventually leading to Arch Rock. Arch Rock was formed by the freezing and thawing of water, causing the softer rock under the arch to be eroded away. Make your way across the bridge and up the steps that go through the arch.

Continue on the trail for less than a mile, and you'll reach inspiration point, which boasts amazing views of Little Duck Hawk Ridge to the west, and Myrtle Point on Mt. LeConte towards the northeast. On a nice day, you may be able to see The Eye of the Needle, a hole atop Little Duck Hawk Ridge.

Continue on the trail until about 2.2 miles from the trailhead, and you'll encounter Alum Cave, for which the trail is named. Alum Cave is actually not a cave, but a bluff named after the the Alum deposits found on the walls of the "cave." The ground here can be fairly loose and slippery, especially during periods of rain. Also, be cautious of falling icicles from the top of the bluff.

Follow along the walls of the bluff and follow the sign to continue on the trail. At approximately 2.6 miles, you'll reach Gracie's Pulpit, which marks the halfway point of the trail.

Continuing on, you'll pass through ledges with cable hand holds. Certain parts have small waterfalls that can become icy and slippery during colder seasons so be careful on the ledges! The last ledge passes just under Cliff Top, and the trail ends at Rainbow Falls Trail.

For the best views of the Smokies from the lodge, check out Myrtle Point and Cliff Top. Myrtle Point offers nearly 360-degree views, and Cliff Top offers the best views of the sunset.

Flora & Fauna

The first mile or so leading up to Arch Rock passes through a large number of rhododendron. One may or may not encounter black bears at the top around LeConte Lodge, and peregrine falcons may also be spotted from Inspiration Point and other viewpoints along the trail.

Contacts

Shared By:

R Kahboohigh

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 241 votes

#24

Overall
  4.8 from 241 votes
5 Star
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4 Star
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#24

Overall
165 Views Last Month
23,171 Since Sep 4, 2015
Difficult

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Photos

Stream in the Smoky Mtns.
Sep 3, 2015 near Gatlinburg, TN
Resting the legs after a long hike up. This view from atop Mt. Leconte is known as Cliff Top.
Mar 31, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Beginning of the fall foliage at Ramsays cascades.
Feb 23, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Alum Cave in the fog
Dec 30, 2015 near Gatlinburg, TN
We made it!
Mar 29, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
Above the clouds on Mt. LeConte summit.
Oct 17, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

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All Clear 4 days ago See History
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Check-Ins

Oct 22, 2021
Jessica Rae
Oct 15, 2021
Nick DiFranco
Several steep sections after the Alum Cave, but very rewarding hike! You get to see a massive cave, hike through forest, and get incredible peak views 15mi
Oct 1, 2021
Stephanie Alexander
8h 00m
Sep 26, 2021
Sue Dodd
Hand rail at the cliff
Sep 7, 2021
Traci Rainbolt
I almost died but definitely cried
Aug 21, 2021
Holly Roberts
Aug 21, 2021
Benjamin Brooks
Aug 20, 2021
Jamie Ball
Great hike! — 6h 30m