An out-and-back Smoky Mountain hike of 11 miles and an elevation gain of 2,763 mean this popular trail is realistically out of reach for most of the Park’s casual day hikers.
Head out on Newfound Gap Road/US Highway 441 and go 12 miles south of Gatlinburg. You’ll find two parking lots, and sometimes that’s still not enough to contain all of the people going on the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte.
Starting out, you’ll ramble over an easy one-mile section that skirts the Alum Cave Creek, then the Styx Branch which is carpeted with rhododendron in the summertime.
The next stretch of the trail covers 2.2 miles and brings you Alum Cave, a misnamed feature because it’s really a covered bluff, 80 feet high and about 500 feet wide. But it does provide a nice shade from the summer heat, and protection from rainstorms.
Now the fun begins for the final 3 miles. You’ll keep ascending on narrowing rock cliffs with necessary cable handrails. In a few places, waterfalls tumble down the ledges, so cross these sections with care.