This 4.6 mile out-and-back route has a little bit of everything. The Alum Cave Trail
crisscrosses Alum Cave Creek, passes under Arch Rock
, and then clambers up the mountainside to the namesake Alum Cave Bluffs
. Thick hardwood forest lines the path, but clearings—especially at Alum Cave itself—offer excellent views of the surrounding mountains.
This is a very popular trail! If visiting during peak hours/season, be prepared to encounter parking issues and crowds.
While you can hike this route year-round, be cautious in the winter—the trail can get slick and icy, and massive icicles form on the underside of the bluff, and they fall from the ceiling without warning!
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, follow Newfound Gap Road for 8.6 miles to the Alum Cave Trail
, which is located on the east side of the road. It's prominent, well-signed, and difficult to miss, especially given this trail's popularity. There are two lots, one directly along the road and another tucked back, past the beginning of the trail. Know that parking does often fill up on busy days and at peak times!
Begin hiking up Alum Cave Trail
. For around the initial 1.5 miles, the trail follows along Alum Cave Creek and then the Styx Branch, with the occasional log bridge crossing to the opposite side. At about 1.3 miles, the trail reaches Arch Rock
where stone steps curve around beneath the stone. The steps can get quite slick when wet, so watch your step!
Soon after Arch Rock
, the trail departs from the creek, ascending the mountainside. As with the earlier portions of the hike, the trail winds beneath the dense canopies of old-growth forest, which, in the summer, is bursting with rhododendron blooms. Once the trail reaches the ridge, each glimpse from between the trees contains increasingly expansive views. Inspiration Point sits about 0.2 miles below Alum Cave and offers a vantage point for many nearby landmarks.
The final stretch gets rockier and steeper, with dropoffs to one side (watch out for little ones if you're hiking with kids!) accompanied a cable handrail for safety. In the final pitch, stone steps lead up, into Alum Cave which isn't much of a cave but rather a concave bluff or a stone arch set into the mountainside. Peer out from beneath the 80 foot stone ceiling, wander along its 500 foot length, and then head back the way you came (or, if you're feeling ambitious, continue along the trail to Cliff Top and Mount Le Conte).
In the mid-1800s, the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company mined epsom salts from the cave. Then, during the Civil War, the Confederate Army used the cave as a source of minerals used in gunpowder.