One of the best places in the eastern United States to go hiking is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From the Park, you can see a lot of beautiful mountain scenery and lush vegetation everywhere. The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most well-known trails offering hikers a challenge - and some great views.
The Alum Cave Trail leads to the top of Mt. LeConte which is the third highest mountain in the Park, with a height of 6,593 feet. The Trail itself is 5.5 miles to the top, or 11 miles roundtrip. On the way, there are some excellent spots for sightseeing - or turning around - if you only want to go part of the way.
The Trail can be rather strenuous in places. On average there is a height gain of about 500 feet per mile, and a total gain of about 2,700 feet by the time the peak is reached. At various places on the trail, there are hand rails available - where they are needed most. It certainly is not the only trail that leads to the peak, but many believe it to easily be the shortest and most scenic route. If the ground is wet from a recent rain, you may want to consider hiking the Trail when the ground is dry. The Trail is very rocky and the rocks can be slippery and somewhat dangerous when wet.
While on the hike, the first notable landmark that the hiker comes to is the Arch Rock. This feature will be 1.3 miles from the starting point, the trailhead. It is a naturally formed rock arch. There are stairs inside and cables to help hikers get through it.
The next feature to be seen on this Trail is called Inspiration Point. From there, you can get a good view of the Little Duck Hawk Ridge. A little beyond the Point, the hiker can see the Eye of the Needle, which is a natural hole in the rock at the top of the Little Duck Hawk Ridge.
Then you will come to the Alum Cave Bluff. This is the feature that the trail is named for, and it will be at 2.2 miles. Alum Cave is not really a cave, but is simply a large overhang that forms a rock shelter. The opening is about 80 feet high and about 500 feet wide. By the time this point is reached, the hiker will be at about 4, 950 feet. Alum, epsom salt, saltpeter, magnesia and copperas were mined from this cave at one time - some of it during the Civil War. If you are hiking in the cold months of the year, you certainly want to watch for falling icicles from the top of this Cave - they could be fatal.
The next feature, which marks the half-way point to the top, is a large flat rock called Gracie's Pulpit. This was named after a lady who lived on the mountain had hiked the trail to LeConte on the 92nd birthday - which she had also done many times previously.
When you get to the top of LeConte, you will see the LeConte Lodge. You can find some items for sale here, such as T-shirts, souvenirs, and other things that hikers would enjoy. You can also buy limited food here, but if you want a hot meal you will need to call at least 48 hours in advance.
The Lodge also provides a number of cabins that you can stay in overnight - if you have a reservation. These have one room, or two and three bedroom cabins. There is no running water or electricity in the cabins, which will give you a real rustic stay away from all modern conveniences. This could be a great way to spend a night with a great view at the top, when you take the Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN.
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