The well-loved, 4.6-mile round-trip Alum Cave Bluffs hike provides a representative sampling of the park’s diverse pleasures. Some rate this satisfying hike, which passes through old-growth forest and follows a series of streams as it winds its way up the southern slope of Mt LeConte, to be the finest in the park.
The pleasures of the hike must be earned, however; it’s a steady climb to the bluffs.
Highlights include Arch Rock, where handcrafted stone steps ascend steeply through the portal of an impressive stone arch that looks like something Frodo was compelled to climb. Beyond this interesting formation, the trail crosses the Styx Branch and begins a steep ascent. The forest gives way to open sky at the next point of interest, a large heath bald where mountain laurel and blueberry bushes grow in a dense mass. After some huffing and puffing, you’ll be repaid for your efforts at a scenic vista called Inspiration Point. From here, it’s a short climb to Alum Cave Bluffs. As it turns out, the name is a misnomer. Waiting for you is not a cave, but rather a rock overhang. Moreover, the rocks contain not alum, but sulfur and rare minerals, some not known to occur elsewhere. If you’re game for more delightful punishment, you can continue on from Alum Cave Bluffs to the summit of Mt LeConte, 2.7 miles up the trail.
Access the trailhead from Newfound Gap Rd.