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