Hiking Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte and Myrtle Point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Looking for a fun, challenging hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Look no further than hiking Alum Cave Trail to Mount Leconte and Myrtle Point. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nestled along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is renowned for its stunning biodiversity, encompassing ancient forests, rugged mountains, and cascading waterfalls, providing a sanctuary for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike. With over 800 miles of hiking trails, panoramic vistas, and rich cultural history, it offers visitors a diverse and immersive experience in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. If you’re browsing Alltrails.com, you’ll see the many different hiking trails available, but few have higher ratings than Alum Cave Trail. But is the hype justifiable? Keep reading my hiking Alum Cave Trail guide to find out!

Overview of Alum Cave Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Conveniently located less than 10 miles from Gatlinburg, Alum Cave Trail is one of the highest rated hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park from hikers on alltrails.com. In this section, I highlight all the little things you’ll need to know to have the best experience on this trail.

Hiking Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountains National Park

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

Where to Park

To start this hike, I parked at about .7 miles further north past the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead Parking lot. Ideally, you’ll find a spot at this parking lot, so I’ll add the Google map below:

Here is the address:

Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead Parking: JGHX+R9 Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you can’t find a spot in this parking lot, keep driving in either direction and park on one of the side parking lots located periodically along Newfoundland Gap Road. I went on a Thursday, and it was pretty busy still. Here is what the side parking lot I parked at down the road looks like:

Side Parking Lot Near Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountains National Park

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled over 13.7 miles, however, this included roughly .7 to and from the parking lot past the trail starting place. If you are fortunate enough to get a spot at the trail entrance, you can expect a hike over 12 miles.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at around 10:45 PM after driving from Charlotte (about 3.5 hours). I finished the hike around 4:30 PM, totaling a little more than 5.5 hours. As mentioned above, I had to walk an additional ~.7 miles to and from the parking lot because all parking was taken at the main trail. However, I have heard from other hikers that this hike can take 7 to 8 hours, so prepare accordingly.

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, I climbed over 3000 feet of elevation, which is spread out pretty well over 6 miles. However, going up is pretty constant, so get ready for a cardio / leg workout.

Hiking Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountains National Park Elevation

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte and Myrtle Point elevation profile (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this hike was pretty hard. I was hauling ass up the mountain and made it to the top under 2 hours and 30 minutes. I wasn’t sure how fast that was, but I overheard people talking that it took them around 4 hours to get to the top. Yikes! So be prepared for a long battle to the top. Be sure to wear the right shoes, specifically for the many small rocks you’ll be stepping on throughout this hike. I hiked this one in April, so the weather was phenomenal, even a bit hotter than expected. If you do this one in the summer, I’m sure it will add more difficulty. My legs started to cramp as I reached the very top of Mount LeConte, so I’m glad that I didn’t have any more height to climb because my legs were pretty dead!

Overall, I’d give this hike a 8.8 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

There are no permits for this hike. If you park at the main point of the trial, you’ll need to purchase a parking ticket found at some of the visitor centers nearby. However, I parked on one of the side lots along the road and didn’t see any signs for paid parking.

Cost

To my knowledge, I did not see any cost other than a parking fee at the main lot. According to the National Parks website, parking costs $5 per day, which is very affordable compared to other National Parks I’ve been to.

When to Go

This park is open year round. I loved going in April, the weather was perfect. I think anytime in the spring or fall would be great for hiking, but winter and summer would still be doable. If you do go in the winter, I’d wear microspikes because there were plenty of areas along the trail that were wet (mostly rocky areas in the shade), even on a bright sunny day.

Recommended Gear

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a wonderful hiking experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought in  April, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers and a light jacket. I wore long paints over my shorts, which ended up being too warm. I expected the top of the mountain to be colder, but it was still warm after a difficult hike up. If anything, you can take a layer off if you get too warm, so it’s better to wear layers.
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike is pretty tough depending on the speed you go up it, which can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder and I drank about 80% of it on this hike. This hike was pretty warm in the sun and difficult to trek up so I drank quite a bit of water.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. There are portions of wet rocks throughout this hike, as well as tons of small rocks and roots that hurt your feet over time.
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, especially on a long hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Honey roasted peanuts, gummy bears, protein shakes, and protein bars.
  • Bug spray: I didn’t experience bugs on this hike, so this wasn’t really needed. However, you may want to use some just in case, especially in summer.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: A good portion of this hike is in the sun. If you forget sunscreen or aren’t covered properly, prepare to burn. I only applied sunscreen once at 1:00 PM because I forgot to, oops! Fortunately I had been in the sun several times throughout March and April so I had a base tan going. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Flashlight: If you go anytime near sunrise or sunset, I’d recommend having a flashlight.
  • Coffee: Depending how far you have to drive after you complete this hike, I recommend bringing an insulated coffee mug with some black coffee in it. This was one of the best hike hacks I incorporated on this hike, as I am usually exhausted by the time I arrive back to the car, while still facing a few hours of driving to get back home. The sun heated my coffee so it was warm when I arrived back to my car!

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Alum Cave Trail hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on. You may not need to use one very often because there were quite a few people on this trail that you could ask to take a picture for you.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Alum Cave Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

So what’s it like hiking Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte and Myrtle Point at Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Read my hiking guide play by play below:

Driving into Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite beautiful. I came in from Cherokee (the South side), and there were quite a few tunnels I passed through enroute to the park via Newfoundland Gap Road:

Parking Area

The parking area, as mentioned above, is very small for a national park. There are several parking lots along the road before and after the trailhead, but the first 2-3 were full as well. I can’t imagine what you’d have to do on a weekend when it’s super busy. Maybe it’s possible to not be able to find a spot within walking distance?

Alum Cave Trail Along the River

As soon as you get through the main parking area, Alum Cave Trail starts. The first mile or so is quite relaxing, as you’ll be walking along side Alum Cave Creek:

Parts of this portion of the trail seem to be almost inside the creek. You can imagine how slippery it would be in the winter without microspikes on.

In some parts of this first portion of the hike, Alum Cave Creek feels more like a river:

 

There are two narrow bridges on this portion of the trail made out of a single tree, but there is a nice railing on one side to help you keep your balance. Still, it’s important to be careful as I’d imagine it would be easy to fall over if you’re tired or have bad balance.

Arch Rock via Alum Cave Trail

Arch Rock is by far my favorite portion of this hike. Like the above video, you’ll need to cross a narrow bridge first to get into Arch Rock. How cool is this place?

When you hit Arch Rock, you’ll know your ascent to over 3000 feet of elevation has just begun.

Alum Cave Via Alum Cave Trail

About a mile past Arch Rock is Alum Cave, which is probably what this hike is most famous for, hence the name of the trail. You’ll climb over 1000 feet of elevation to get to Alum Cave, and there are quite a few steps heading up to the cave:

Once you get to Alum Cave, you’ll notice the amount of people resting there, as it’s significantly cooler than other portions of the hike. It’s also quite impressive:

Alum Cave Trail Heading Towards Cliff Top

It seems a lot of people stop after Alum Cave, which is understandable given that you need to trek an additional 1800-2000 feet in elevation to reach the top. But if you’re wanting some punishment on your body, you can continue on towards Cliff Top! You’ll start ascending on rocky sections with metal railings secured into the rock, like this one:

There are quite a few stairs to climb up on your ascent, like this massive set:

As you continue climbing, the views will start opening up:

This next video is one of my favorite views on the entire hike. There is a metal railing that curves around a circular rock, opening up some great views of the Smoky Mountains:

Cliff Top Via Cliff Top Trail

As you climb your way up towards the top, one offshoot trail you can go to is Cliff Top Trail, which takes you to probably the best view on this entire hike:

Cliff Top View on Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountain National Park

This is the point where I decided to rest 20 minutes and eat some snacks. The one thing I didn’t like about this spot was how busy it was. It was too busy to get a good seat for a view, and it’s a quite small viewing area.

Myrtle Point Via Boulevard Trail

As you continue onward, you’ll start heading towards Myrtle Point. While this is a less good view compared to Cliff Top’s view, I enjoyed it because I had it 100% to myself for over 20 minutes while I took some photos:

Myrtle Point View on Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountain National Park

Similarly to the Cliff Top view, Myrtle Point offers a nice rocky looking ledge to take photos from:

Myrtle Point View on Alum Cave Trail in Smoky Mountain National Park 2

Did I mention to wear sunscreen on this hike? You’ll be exposed to sun quite a bit.

Downhill Descent Back to the Parking Lot

After you turn back from Myrtle Point, you won’t face too many more uphill areas. You should be able to get back to the parking quite a bit faster than it took for you to get up to this point. One of the things I love about out and back trials is that you get to experience new perspectives of the surrounding scenery that you probably didn’t see the first time.

After Hike Dinner

After hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and driving 3.5 hours back to Charlotte, I was in need of something substantial. I landed on making marinated chicken shawarma over pearl couscous and an 8 ounce sirloin cap steak (also known as Picanha, IYKYK):

marinated chicken shawarma over pearl couscous and an 8 ounce sirloin cap steak

About My Experience Hiking at Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Overall, hiking at Great Smoky Mountains National Park was great. In this section, I’ll highlight my favorite parts as well as my least favorite parts of the hike.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Alum Cave Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Arch Rock

Arch Rock was by far my favorite part of this hike. I was hoping there would be many more parts like this throughout the hike, but unfortunately this was the only section that feels like you’re going through a cave. Reaching this part of the hike is very easy and is less than 2 miles out from the entrance before the elevation climb really starts.

Alum Cave

Probably the most famous part of this hike is Alum Cave, hence the name of the trail. It seems most people hike to this area and turn around. At this point I remember seeing over 1000 feet of elevation on my alltrails app tracker, and about 2.5 miles from the starting point of the trail. Alum Cave was pretty busy, a lot of people were resting here. It was definitely an interest part of the hike.

Cliff Top

Probably the best view on this hike is at Cliff Top. However, it was too busy up there to get a spot with a great view.

Myrtle Point

While not as good of a view as Cliff Top, I liked Myrtle Point because I had the entire view to myself for over 20 minutes before I turned back. So if you want a more secluded area (I tend to like those best), Myrtle Point is a great spot to relax and eat some snacks.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

Very Busy

Even on a Thursday, this trail was very busy. This may be okay for you, but I like a little less people while on the trail.

Few Parking Spots Available

Tying into the busyness of this trail, there weren’t many parking spots available. Had there been large parking lots like some other national park hiking areas, the busyness wouldn’t be too bad. If you come to do this hike, you should arrive early to get a spot, especially on a weekend.

Not Many Great Views

I was expecting more great views on this hike, but unfortunately there were only 4 or 5 spots scattered along the hike that offered some good views. I am comparing this to other Appalachian mountain hikes, such as Grandfather Mountain (which has awesome views almost the entire way along the top).

Overall Score

Overall I had a great time on this trail. It was a hard workout that at times made me want to be done with it. But once I finished the long 13+ miles and sat back in my car, I had feelings that I accomplished something considerable. Seeing the super high reviews on alltrails.com, I think this hike overall underwhelmed for me, but it was still a great time. I give this trail a 8.5 / 10.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

Hiking Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a great time. It was a very challenging hike that tested my endurance and mental fortitude, so for that reason I had a lovely experience. If you’re in the Smoky Mountains and looking for a hike with some really beautiful scenery, I highly recommend you add Alum Cave Trail to your list.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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