Via Alum Cave Trail/Rainbow Falls Trail
*One of our best hikes in the Southern Appalachians!
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN
- 11 Miles out and back (5 mi to Alum Cave and back)
- 2760 ft (1200 to Alum Cave)
- Our Time: 6.5 hours
- Best done in Fall (after leaf off) or early spring (before leaf on)
- B.I.T. Rating: ***1/2
Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive 8.6 miles North on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) from the GSMNP Sugarlands Visitor Center or 20 miles from Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The parking area is hard to miss; in peak season, look for the miles of cars parked by the roadside.
Brief Description: Perhaps the most popular trail in GSNMP visits the ‘cave’ of its namesake (not really a cave but impressive) before continuing on to one of the highest summits in the park. Great views both en route and near the summit; don’t expect solitude.
Why do it?
- Remarkable Alum Cave (actually an impressive bluff)
- Arch Rock is actually more like a cave
- Most hikers don’t go past the bluffs
- Two major viewpoints near the top (Cliff Top and Myrtle Point)
- Many other viewpoints on the way up
- Recent trail work has greatly improved the footing
- Steep and rough in spots but not overly difficult if done in good weather
- Historic Mt. Leconte Lodge
- Options to make this an overniter
- Fees: None. GSMNP is the only major NP unit that does not charge for entrance.
But first consider…
- The most heavily (over)used trail in the most heavily (over)visited national park in the US.
- Expect sporting event sized crowds at peak season
- Though repairs were done in 2016, heavy traffic has badly eroded the trail
- Parking at trailhead, while also improved, still insufficient for the crowds
- Summit of Leconte is treed in (no view)
- A long (11 miles to summit and back) slog
- Steep and unrelenting
- Footing is rougher above the bluffs
- Dodgy ledges that manage to stay wet in any weather
- Not recommended for icy conditions
- The lodge is basically a bunch of ‘rustic’ shacks
- Though beautiful, GSMNP is simply not for those who crave solitude
For an alternate itinerary consider the Rainbow Falls Trail