Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Alum Cave Trail & Coffee on Cliff Top

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Saturday, July 15, 2023

Alum Cave Trail, what can I say that has not been said already. This is one of the Smoky Mountains’ most popular trails and there are a few reasons why. This trail has it all starting with the views and there are many along this five and half mile trek. There are several distinctive features that stand out as well with Arch Rock and the Alum Bluff. Finally, this is the shortest trail that will get you to the top of Mount Le Conte.  

My Route: 

Alum Cave Trail ...... 5.5 Miles
Alum Cave Trail ...... 5.5 Miles 

~ Click Here for AllTrails Recording ~

I woke up early and hit the trial around 5:30 am well before first light. I always like getting the jump on the crowds when it comes to the popular trials in the Smokies. The first two and half miles follow the creek up at a gradual elevation. At 1.4 miles you come to Arch Rock that is a type of land bridge you hike through. Then at 2.2 miles you come to what people call Inspiration Point where you can get some fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Finally at 2.5 miles you hit Alum Bluff that is a huge rock face on the side of the mountain. It really puts size in perspective and pictures just do not do it justice.  

Trail sign @ Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, & Bullhead Junction 

It is here that the trail gets steeper and narrower. There are splendid views throughout this section of the trail, but you also have steep drop-offs. Especially when the leaves are off the trees there are times you feel exposed and if you are afraid of heights, it might get a little difficult. They have installed cables in a lot of these areas to give people a handhold to help. On crowded days, some backups could develop in these areas as well.  

It was through one of these tight sections that I ran into a bear. Luckily, the bear was going the same direction I was, so I gave it some space and eventually it must have climbed off the trail as I never saw it again. Just before you get to the Rainbow Falls, Bullhead, and Alum Cave Trail junction the scenery turns heavily wooded. From here I headed up then turned on the 0.2-mile side trail the heads to Cliff Top.  

~ View from Cliff Top ~

It was a good morning, with rolling clouds, bright blue skies, and I was the only one there for a good 15 minutes. I brewed my coffee and took the beautiful moment in as several groups of people showed up, then dispersed, and it was just me again. It was nice to be able to just sit for a long while and take it all in.  

~ Me in front of the Inn ~

From Cliff Top I tagged the summit and stopped by the inn. I was there during the off time and decided to hike back down instead of waiting for an additional hour. It called for storms later in the afternoon and I did not want to get caught in them if I did not have to. The way down was more crowded than on the way up and I had to wait for people to stop taking selfies in the middle of the cable runs. The way down is just as beautiful as the way up and the whole hike was wonderful.  

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Related Blog Posts:

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Full Time Lapse Video:

Thursday, August 24, 2023

In Search of Gregory's Bald

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
June 22 - 25, 2023

The past two years went by fast, faster than I would like to admit, but it was time again for the bi-annual trip with my buddy Greg. We decided to return once again to the Great Smoky Mountains and make Smokemont our basecamp for a second time. Our adventure this year was a hike up to Gregory’s Bald with an overnight at backcountry site #13 Sheep Pen Gap at 4,640 ft.  

Greg and I before I hike up to Gregory Bald

Day 1 – The first day of our trip of course is always travel. Greg drove down from Indy to my house and then we took my Jeep and trailer into the park. We were able to get everything set up and squared away before our traditional rain shower. For those of you who do not know, on about every one of our trips we always get a fair amount of rain and by fair amount it is usually a torrential downpour.  We were able to get a fire going and cook a good dinner before calling it a night. 

Day 2 – Can not start an adventure off without some coffee and a hearty breakfast. We then packed our bags and headed out on the road to the Twentymile Ranger Station where the trailhead started. Below I listed the route we took for this loop hike.  

Our Route: 

  1. Twenitymile ...................... 3.1 Miles
  2. Long Hungry Ridge ............ 4.6 Miles 
  3. Gregory Bald .................... 1.2 Miles 
  4. Wolf Ridge ....................... 6.3 Miles 
  5. Twentymile ...................... 0.5 Miles 

Area Trail Map GSMNP

I hiked this same route going the opposite direction back in April of 2022 and I will list all the information from that hike in the link section at the end of this blog. The reason for hiking it starting with Long Hungry Ridge is while a longer hike up it is not as steep this direction. In hindsight I might take the greater elevation gain with the shorter distance after slugging all that way up with an overnight pack on.  

The morning was rainy and gave way to the sun around 11:00 but by the time we started to reach the top of the mountain a thick fog / haze moved in. By the time we reached Gregory Bald the view was totally obscured in a thick fog however the Flame Azaleas were in full bloom and popped against the grey sky. It really did feel as if we were on a different planet.  

After taking it all in for a few minutes we stumbled on into camp and started setting up. We tried to start a fire but I was pretty sure it was not going to take off. Between all the rain, humidity, and mist all the wood was just saturated. We could at least get it started but could not get it to catch so we settled in for a couple of adult beverages and dinner before calling it a night.  

My sleep setup for this outing

Day 3 – I was planning to get up with a couple of other guys who camped with us that night and go and try and get a view back a Gregory Bald. When my alarm went off, I stuck my head out from underneath the tarp and saw the mist had turned into a deep fog and some light rain. There was not any sense of getting up for another fogged in view, so I curled up back in my sleeping bag and got some more shuteye. 

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Finally got up a couple of hours later and got my coffee going. Greg got up around 9:00 am or so and we had breakfast, broke camp, and started back down the mountain. The weather could not make up its mind and fluctuated from mist to rain then sun and back again. The downhill was more pleasant than the uphill and we made pretty good time. Parson’s Bald was really grown over from the last time I was there. We missed the rattlesnake who had made the Parson’s Bald sign his home according to a few other hikers coming up the trail. As we moved lower streams started to reappear and the sounds of running water stayed with us until we got back to the Jeep. 

Got back to Smokemont and took a quick dip in the stream and almost went swimming with a couple of snakes. We then had a celebratory steak with a few more adult beverages.  Another great trip and Smoky Mountain adventure in the books the next day we packed up and headed home. The mountains never disappoint.  

YouTube Video:

Past Blogs and Videos on Gregory Bald:

Hiking Gregory Bald
April 22, 2023

My blog post on my very first hike up to Gregory Bald. This was the same way Greg and I went but hiked the loop in reverse. 

- Click Here For Blog Page - 

Hiking Gregory Bald
April 22, 2023

AllTrails recording of my first hike. See my time elevation gain and all that happy stuff.

- Click Here For Recording - 

April 22, 2023

I have wanted to do this hike for a few years now. I have not yet been to Gregory Bald and I had heard it is a sight... - Video -

April 22, 2023

This video will take you to Gregory Bald then down Long Hungry Ridge and Twentymile and we will stop at the Twentymile Cascade... - Video -

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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Hiking Sterling Mountain

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Saturday June 10, 2023

This was by far the longest day hike I have done to date coming in just over nine-teen miles in under twelve hours. Starting off in the Big Creek parking lot I decided to take Baxter Creek up. It is steeper than the other ways but only about a five-mile climb. My thinking was better to get the climb out of the way and enjoy the longer downhill. It worked out perfectly and I am glad I did it that way as my feet were hurting by the end of this one. 

Click Here For My AllTrails Recording

My Route:

1. Baxter Creek …................... 6.1 Miles

2. Mt. Sterling Ridge .............. 1.4 Miles

3. Swallow Fork ..................... 4.0 Miles

4. Big Creek .......................... 5.1 Miles

There was quite a bit of a blowdown along Baxter Creek, but nothing was too terribly difficult to get around. The trail is quite pleasant with some larger trees and on this day the green was just popping. The downside to this trail is there are not a lot of places to see a view of the surrounding mountains. Around the five-mile mark as you get to the summit there is one little spot to take in a view and then a weather observing tower next to backcountry campsite No. 38. I took my coffee and lunch break and then hopped back on trail to make my way down.  

Once you hit the weather tower the hike for the next couple of miles will be along a ridge line. It will be mostly downhill though some uphill will be mixed in. I love hiking ridgelines because you get some nice airflow over them and in the upper elevations on a balmy day the cool air feels great. As you circle back around most of the downhill will start on Swallow Fork. This trail seemed a little less used than the others I was on as sections of this trail were overgrown in spots. As you descend little creeks and streams start to appear and then turn into bigger ones. This trail felt very peaceful, and I enjoyed hiking it a lot. 

After Swallow Fork you hit the junction with Big Creek that takes you back to the parking lot and completes this loop. Big Creek seems a lot more well maintained but is littered with bigger rocks and after a long day that does not help one’s footing. There are several good spots along this trail to just sit and take in the sights and sounds of rushing water. Around the two-to-two-and-a-half-mile mark you hit Mouse Creek Falls. This is a beautiful waterfall just off the trail running down the mountain side. Then another quarter to half mile you have a pretty, little watering hole where I took a break and soaked my hurting feet. 

In my video and while I was there, I thought I was at Midnight Hole, but that was not the case. Midnight Hole is a lot bigger and the crowd there was mindboggling. With my feet hurting and the large crowd I did not film anything and just kept moving down the trail. From Midnight Hole to the trail head is a two-mile hike. All said and done AllTrails had me at 19.18 miles. 

Another outstanding hike in the books and I cannot wait to explore this area some more and maybe even do a cold weather camp up at the higher elevation. I would recommend this one and as always hike on and stay safe.

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Alum Cave Trail & Coffee on Cliff Top

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Saturday, July 15, 2023 Alum Cave Trail, what can I say that has not been said already. This is o...