smoky mountains

Hiking to Alum Cave Bluffs (Great Smoky Mountain National Park)

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Hike a trail full of history of scenic views!

The trail to Alum Cave Bluffs is rich in history AND packs a mean punch of beautiful scenery.

Enjoy an easy stroll to Arch Rock along a well-marked trail that is accompanied by the soothing sound of a flowing creek.

Turn around here for an easy hike or continue further to the cave bluffs for outstanding views of the Smoky Mountains.

After the cave bluffs, you can continue on another 2.4 miles to Mt LeConte. This is the shortest (and most difficult) of the 5 trails leading up to Mt LeConte.

In this post, I will recount the hike from the trailhead to the cave bluffs, since that is the only part of the trail I have done. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Mt LeConte!

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Hiking to Alum Cave Bluff in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park!

Trail Stats

  • Distance: 4.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1125
  • Difficulty: moderate to moderately-difficult (depends on who you ask)
  • Hiking Time: About 3 hours
alum cave trailhead sign

History Fun-Fact:

In 1838, a 50-acre plot of land that includes Arch Rock was sold and its salt deposits were used for Epsom salt mining. 

Directions to Alum Cave Trailhead

The Alum Cave trailhead can be found on Newfound Gap Road about 8.7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

The trailhead will be on your left and there are two parking lots.

If coming from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the trailhead will be 20 miles down Newfound Gap Road on your right.

If you can’t find a spot in the parking lots, don’t fret. Parking for Alum Cave trail proves to be difficult, especially if visiting during peak times.

Parking along the road is allowed in this national park. In fact, you will probably see LOTS of cars parked along the road.

Alum Cave Trail Map

alum cave trail map
This is the trail map located at the trailhead.

Trailhead to Arch Rock

Alum Cave Trail starts out very easy and mostly flat, running along a beautiful creek that happened to be roaring when I went (it had just rained the past 3 days).

alum cave hiking trail
The Alum Cave trail is well-marked, easy to follow, and has beautiful scenery.

You may be surprised at the number of bridges on this stretch of the trail. I loved it. Many of them are logs with railing just on one side.

Hiking this trail in the fall is absolutely BEAUTIFUL because you get such a variety of colors.

The rusty orange-brown leaves mixed with the greenery of forest growth is simply stunning.

log bridge
One of several log bridges that can be found along this trail.

The trail has a gradual incline until you reach Arch Rock, about 1.4 miles into the hike.

Arch Rock

trees and fall leaves
The log bridge will lead you to Arch Rock, where you will climb the wet stairs to continue on up the trail. Don’t forget to use the steel cables for support!

I hadn’t researched this hike and wasn’t sure what to expect from this “arch rock” but I found it really cool.

If you’re pressed for time or just looking for an easy hike, this is a great place to turn around and head back.

Or, continue through this wet rock via the stairs & steel cables to continue on to the Alum Cave Bluffs!

Inspiration Point

trees and mountains on hiking trail
When you reach Inspiration Point, don’t forget to turn around and see even more beautiful views.

This was actually my favorite spot of the entire hike. About 2 miles into the trail, sitting at 4700 feet of elevation, the rocky Inspiration Point offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

You’ll know when you reach this spot.

If you scroll back up to the trail map, it’s the “V” or “U” shaped curve between Arch Rock and the cave bluffs.

Alum Cave Bluff

At 2.2 miles into the trail, you will reach your destination at Alum Cave Bluff!

alum cave bluffs
This is a great place to stop and relax a bit before heading back down the trail or continuing on to Mount LeConte.

Spoiler Alert: there is no actual cave on this trail, simply a concave bluff.

cave bluff
Clouds were literally right above the trees when we hiked. Putting the “smoke” in smoky mountains!

This 80-foot tall bluff is a great place to stop and chill for a bit. Be careful in the winter months though!

I have heard the bluff can produce large, dangerous icicles that crash down onto the trail. Not the way I’d want to leave this planet but ya know, to each his own. 

From this point, you have the option to continue another 2.7 miles to summit Mt. LeConte, or head back down the trail.

cave bluff with wooden stairs

Tips for the Alum Cave Trail

  • Bring layers! The cave bluffs were much cooler than I expected.
  • Might want to consider a rain jacket. The cave bluff seeps water and it’s similar to being rained on. It wasn’t bad at all but if you don’t like getting wet, you may want to bring something waterproof with a hood.
  • Don’t let the first part of the trail fool you, it definitely gets more difficult the last mile or so.

Hope you enjoyed reading about hiking to the Alum Cave Bluffs. Even though it’s not really a “cave”, it was still really cool!

Want to read about another awesome hike in the Smokies? Check out my hike to Laurel Falls!

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Enjoy hiking to Alum Cave Bluffs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

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