When I go on vacation, I cannot sit still. For instance, I don’t do well with all-inclusive resorts where you sit around the pool all day. I need adventure and activity! During my recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I experienced my fair share of adventure by conquering the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail.
After studying the trail map we picked up at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (for the whopping price of $1.00), a few of us decided to traverse the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail. If you find yourself looking for hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and are an avid hiker, this trail is for you.
Where is the Trail?
To find the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte trail, start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drive approximately 8.7 miles up Newfoundland Gap Road. You’ll notice the Alum Cave trailhead and parking lots on your left. The trail offers two lots due to the popularity of the first half of the trail to the Alum Cave Bluff. With this in mind, it is in your best interest to conquer your hike as early in the day as possible to secure a parking spot.
About the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail
This particular Smoky Mountains trail leads hikers to the 6,593-foot summit of Mt. LeConte for an 11+ mile out-and-back hike. However, to get to the top of the mountain, you first have to trek to Alum Cave.
Alum Cave Trail
The 2.3-mile trail begins along the gorgeous Alum Cave Creek with a fairly flat and wide path featuring bridges and a few switchbacks. Due to the easy to moderate nature of the trail, you’ll notice this section of your journey to be more crowded with visitors than others.
About 1.5 miles in, you’ll reach Arch Rock. This naturally formed stone arch requires hikers to climb a staircase through the rock. Even if you’re not a fan of stairs, this natural wonder is quite a sight! After this point, the trail slowly but surely becomes steeper. As a result, you’ll discover spectacular mountain views to your left.
At one point just before the Alum Cave Bluff, you’ll notice a rocky, bald area with remarkable views of the Anakeesta Ridge. This is the perfect place for families to take a short break, snap some pictures, and gear up for the rest of the trail. But don’t stay too long—you’re almost at the cave!
Just under a mile away, you’ll climb a few more stairs and switchbacks to reach the Alum Cave Bluff. During the warmer months, you’ll see a mass of droplets falling off the top of the cave. With the hot temperatures of the summer, this was a nice surprise. Note that in the colder months, droplets turn into icicles and you may have to dodge a few!
The majority of visitors will stop to break at Alum Cave Bluff and head back to the trailhead for a fast 5-mile hike. Although, if you’d like to conquer the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail, it’s time to keep moving. You have about 3 miles to go before reaching the top of the mountain!
To the Top of Mt. LeConte
Once you’ve taken your break overlooking the views from the Alum Cave Bluff, it’s time to continue the trek to the top of Mt. LeConte. One piece of information to note here is that the trail becomes far more difficult from this point on. Those who do not have experience hiking significant distances may want to consider their abilities before moving forward.
Starting out, the next half of the trail narrows and begins with a few rolling hills. Nothing too strenuous! About a half mile in, you’ll start to notice hand rails on the rock formations to the side of the trail. I suggest using these; they’re there for a reason! Take a slight look to your left, and you’ll find a steep cliff or drop-off. You don’t want to deal with that, do you?
To put this in perspective, I witnessed a couple lose their precious selfie-stick (not to mention, almost their lives) while trying to take pictures mere centimeters away from the edge of the trail. Use the handrails!
Another interesting part of the trail is the water run-off from various rock formations throughout this portion of the trail. While refreshing during the warmer months, they can be potentially dangerous during the colder months. For those of you who like to hike in the snow, be weary of these icy conditions.
Once you’ve conquered about 2.5 miles of the increasingly steeper and narrower trail along the edge of the mountain, you’ll stumble upon a dense, lush forest. With such a drastic change in scenery, I thought I took a wrong turn at first. However, this forest is a flat path which was a welcome change! Follow this path until you reach the Mt. LeConte Lodge.
From the lodge, take the Cliff Tops trail to your right for another 0.3 miles until you reach the highest point of the mountain and, as you guessed, the cliffs. Unfortunately, the weather during our little expedition was all over the place, resulting in thick mist at the top of the mountain. Hence, where the Smoky Mountains got their name!
Once you’ve completed a 2,500+ elevation gain, you’ll want to sit back and enjoy your accomplishment. We decided to hang out at the top of the mountain and explore the lodge for about 45 minutes before trekking back down the mountain. Naturally, the descending part of the hike goes by far faster but can do a number on your knees and joints. Pace yourself if you have to!
What to Bring on Your Hike
For the best possible hiking experience along the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail, pack the following items:
- A comfortable hiking backpack
- Lots of water. Lightweight bottles or CamelBak products are ideal
- Healthy snacks such as protein bars, fruit, veggies, or pretzels
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- A light jacket to accommodate the changing temperature
- Sturdy and comfy hiking shoes or boots. Sneakers will work, but make sure they offer support!
- Your phone and an external charger
- A camera
While you can bring extraneous items such as towels, a selfie-stick, and more, consider you will have to carry these items throughout the duration of your 11+ mile hike.
What to Know Before Embarking on the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail
Before you depart on your 11-mile Smoky Mountains endeavor, keep the following in mind:
You are in the middle of a mountain. Your chances of having cell phone service are slim to none. With this in mind, carry a map or take a picture of the map before hiking. This will be handy if you take a wrong turn or get separated from your group. If you do have service, let me know what provider you have so I can switch!
The first half of your hike will be more populated with hikers going to Alum Cave and back. Watch out for older individuals, young children running or playing, and larger groups of people.
As you change elevations and terrain, you will notice a temperature change. While it was around 90℉ outside, I wore a jacket towards the top as it got colder the higher up the mountain I went.
Budget Your Time
Since we did not have any other plans, we took our time and enjoyed the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte Trail to the fullest. We started the hike around 12:00 pm and ended around 6:30 pm. Take your time and see the sights! Why rush?
Depending on the weather, you may have a clear view from the top of Mt. LeConte! This is ideal to capture as many photographs as you can. During my hike, we encountered intense mist which was still a sight to see. After all, how cool is it to be in the “smoke” from the Smoky Mountains?
With this guide and our advice, you’re ready to conquer the Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte trail. Have you trekked to the top of Mt. LeConte? What tips would you add to our trail guide?