The beautiful hike to the summit of Mount LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with panoramic views, thick forests, wildflowers, peregrine falcons, geological phenomena and history. The Alum Cave Trail is the shortest route to reach the top of Mount LeConte and is one of the many reasons why this trail is so popular and crowded. These factors make this trail to the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains a premiere hike that is unlike any other in the Smoky Mountain region.
The 11-mile round-trip hike gains 2,763 feet in elevation in 5.5 miles, making it a strenuous hike to the top. Due to its tremendous popularity, it is best to start this hike early in the morning if you want to find a parking spot at the trailhead and avoid the crowds. The first section of the trail takes you to a landmark known as Arch Rock, which was formed by patterns of freezing and thawing that caused the soft rock underneath the hard outer shell to erode, thus creating an arch. The 1.3-mile hike to Arch Rock has little elevation gain and follows the Alum Cave Creek. Along the way, expansive fields of rhododendron wildflowers can be seen on the ground of the forest in the early summer months.
The second section of the trail goes from Arch Rock to Alum Cave, which is about 2.2 miles from the trailhead. The cave is technically more of a concave bluff that is 500 feet long and 80 feet high. On rainy days it is a great place to stay dry. Water constantly drips from the top of the cave, which can create icicles up to four feet long when the water is frozen in the winter. Alum Cave has experienced its fair share of history on multiple occasions. In 1838, Epsom Salt Company established the cave as a mining site for salt until 1854. It is also believed that soldiers of the Confederate Army frequented the cave during the Civil War to mine for saltpeter to make gunpowder for the war.
The third section of the trail stays very close to the cliff face and leads to the summit of Mount LeConte. This portion of the trail is surrounded by dense spruce-fir forests and is frequently visited by peregrine falcons. The top of the mountain has a lodge and overnight cabins, which is a beautiful and unique experience but is always in high demand and requires reservations to be made very far in advance. The views at the summit of Mount LeConte are some of the best in the entirety of the Great Smoky Mountains, and they are well worth the strenuous uphill hike to the top. This hike is very popular for a reason due to its stunning scenery, thick forests, creeks, cave and wildlife. It is a very diverse trail that is well worth exploring when visiting the Smoky Mountains.