Cabins USA Gatlinburg Logo
Loading Page
(800) 584-9872
Cabins USA Gatlinburg Availability Search Icon Availability Search Small Icon

What's The Best Hiking Trail in the Smokies?

Blog Home : Category Posts : What's The Best Hiking Trail in the Smokies?

If you only have a limited time to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there's no doubt that you want to find the best hiking trail to enjoy during your visit.

But with over 850 miles of hiking trails and over 80 hiking routes to choose from in the national park, it can be daunting to find the perfect hike for your trip.

If you only have one day to hike in the Smoky Mountains, we can recommend what's widely considered to be the best hiking trail in the Smoky Mountains: The Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte.

View Of Mt. LeConte Summit

What is the Alum Cave Trail?

The Alum Cave Trail is a 5.5-mile hiking trail located a short drive from Gatlinburg, TN. This popular trail takes hikers from Newfound Gap Road to LeConte Lodge near the summit of Mt. LeConte, the 3rd tallest peak in the Smokies. This popular trail is arguably one of the most beloved hikes in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Why is Alum Cave The Best Hike in the Smokies?

Truthfully, there are dozens of worthwhile hikes to enjoy in the Great Smoky Mountains, so it can be difficult to pick the best from the rest.

Here are 8 reasons why Alum Cave Trail stand above the rest when compared to the other trails of the Smoky Mountains.

1. Lots of Highlights

Alum Creek on the Alum Cave Trail

Rather than just offering a beautiful destination like a single overlook or waterfall, the Alum Cave Trail offers beautiful sights to enjoy during its entire length. From beginning to end, the trail offers beautiful streamside settings, unique geologic formations, and stunning mountain vistas. The terminus of the trail, Mt. LeConte, is a fitting destination for this iconic hike in the Smokies. At no point does this hike feel tedious or dull, there is a beautiful sight around every corner.

2. Incredible Mountain Views

View From Cliff Tops on Mt LeConte

One of the best things about the Great Smoky Mountains is its impressive mountain scenery and there are few trails that showcase this natural beauty as well as the Alum Cave Trail. There are numerous overlooks on this high elevation hike and they all offer excellent vantage points of surrounding mountains. As a result, Alum Cave Trail is arguably one of the best hiking trails for mountain views in the national park.

3. Unique Geologic Features

Alum Cave Bluffs on Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail travels up the side of Mt. LeConte in one of the most interesting geologic regions of the national park. Early in the hike, the trail passes through Arch Rock, an unusual rock arch cave created by millions of years of freezing and thawing. At the midway point of the trail, hikers can witness Alum Cave Bluffs, an 80 ft high overhanging cliff. This is the largest of its kind in the Smokies and it's an unusual and striking sight in the park.

4. Historic Significance

LeConte Lodge on Mt. LeConte

Alum Cave Bluffs is a topic of the Cherokee Indians, who say their great Chief Yanugunski discovered the bluffs when tracking a bear. In the 1830s, a mining company used minerals from the bluffs to make clothing dyes.

Later, during the Civil War, the bluffs were used as a saltpeter mine to produce gunpowder for the Confederates. To help preserve this source of gunpowder, a Confederate fort was built near the modern day Newfound Gap Road to control this resource.

At the top of Mt. LeConte, you'll find LeConte Lodge, a historic lodge that was indispensable in convincing significant backers to campaign for the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, were it not for LeConte Lodge, the national park might not even exist today.

5. The Reward

View From Mt. LeConte

At the top of Mt. LeConte, there are 3 main attractions to enjoy: The LeConte Lodge, The Cliff Tops Overlook, and The Myrtle Point Overlook.

The Alum Cave Trail reaches its terminus at the Historic LeConte Lodge near the summit of Mt. LeConte. Overnight hikers can make reservations to stay at the lodge and visitors can even buy a bag lunch there during the summer months.

From here, you can hike a short distance further to Cliff Tops or Myrtle Point to enjoy some of the most incredible views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

6. A Unique Place in the Mountains

Spruce Fir Forest on Mt LeConte

Compared to other mountaintops in the Great Smoky Mountains and the rest of Appalachia, Mt. LeConte is very unique. A high elevation spruce-fir forest that looks like something out of a fairy tale dominates the peak.

Mt. LeConte also has dramatic cliffs and rocky outcroppings that provide nearly panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, Mt. LeConte is a standalone peak separated from the main ridgeline in the national park.

The result is that this mountain peak provides one of the most dramatic views in the Smoky Mountains. Since Mt. LeConte stands at an elevation of 6593 ft and since it is the 3rd tallest peak in the national park, you'll be able to see for miles and miles from the summit.

7. Just The Right Distance

At 5.5 miles in length, Alum Cave is the shortest route to the summit of Mt. LeConte. Though this trail requires a full 11 miles of round-trip hiking, it's actually short compared to some other trails in the Smokies. While this hike requires a full day to complete, it is a manageable distance for most hikers in the national park.

8. Just The Right Challenge

Mt. LeConte offers an appropriate amount of difficulty for most hikers. Thankfully, this trail is not the most difficult hike in the Smokies, but it's a worthwhile physical challenge.

This strenuous hike has a total elevation gain of 2,763 feet and an average elevation gain per mile of 502 feet, so you'll definitely feel a burning sensation in your quads. By giving yourself 7-8 hours to complete this hike, wearing appropriate clothing, and packing plenty of food and water, this trail is manageable for most hikers.

The Bottom Line

View From Myrtle Point

Alum Cave Trail is a true classic in the Great Smoky Mountains. Few other trails showcase all of the best aspects of the Smoky Mountains and few others are worth hiking more than once. No other trail in the Smoky Mountains offers so many things to see. Additionally, there is no other place in Appalachia that looks quite like the summit of Mt. LeConte. In fact, there probably isn't another place like it in the world.

Even in bad weather, the Alum Cave Trail does not disappoint. It's a classic hike through and through. If you can only hike one trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Alum Cave Trail is a perfect choice.

One possible downside of choosing Alum Cave Trail is that this hike is one of the most popular trails in the national park, so you can't count on having complete peace and privacy on your hike. One thing working in a hikers favor is that the second half of the hike is much less busy than the first half of the trail since many visitors are only hiking to the halfway point at Alum Cave Bluffs.

Alum Cave Trail Quick Facts

  • Round Trip Distance: 11 Miles
  • Avg. Elevation Gain Per Mile: 502 Ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 6593 Ft.
  • Est. Hiking Time: 7-8 Hours
  • Getting There: The Alum Cave Trailhead is located just off of Newfound Gap Road on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You'll find this trailhead 8.7 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center on the road to the Newfound Gap parking area.

For more on Alum Cave Trail check this guide to hiking Alum Cave Trail.

What are some of the other best hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

  • Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower
  • Chimney Tops Hike
  • Andrews Bald
  • Hike To Charlie's Bunion / The Jump Off
  • Mt. Sterling Firetower

Final Thoughts

We'd love to know, what's your favorite hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Have you hiked the Alum Cave Trail? Do you think that Alum Cave is the best hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section on our website!

Written by

Recent Articles

Gatlinburg Events In 2023

Gatlinburg Events in 2023

Experience a Gatlinburg vacation packed with fun by scheduling things around these extraordinary Gatlinburg events in 2023!
What To Pack When Going To The Mountains

What to Pack When Going to the Smoky Mountains

Prepare yourself for the best Smokies vacation possible with your favorite people by knowing what to pack when going to the mountains!
Short Vacation Ideas For Gatlinburg

48 Hours: Short Vacation Ideas for Gatlinburg

With only 48 hours in Gatlinburg, you'll need to optimize your time to keep the fun going. Check out our best short vacation ideas for Gatlinburg to get started!


Blogger Bear's Adventures In The Smoky Mountains

Blogger Bear's Smoky Mountain Adventures

Meet our new guest blogger! This blogging bear loves sharing the Smoky Mountains with everyone. He knows his home well - read more...
Hiking Blog In The Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking in the Smokies Blog

Planning adventures in the great outdoors? Our hiking blog has tips and tricks for vacationers in Gatlinburg who want - read more...
Seasonal Events And Celebrations In Gatlinburg, Tn

Seasons in Gatlinburg

Any time of year is a great time to visit Gatlinburg and the Smokies! Explore these articles to learn more about fun e - read more...
Gatlinburg Vacation Tips

Vacation Tips

Make the most of your vacation in the Smoky Mountains with our tips and tricks! - read more...

Please Note: Cabins USA Gatlinburg's area information, area events, and blog pages are provided as a public service. Cabins USA Gatlinburg does not endorse any of the products, vendors, consultants, or businesses referenced in these web pages. Any mention of vendors, products, businesses, or services on the Cabins USA Gatlinburg web site is for informational purposes only. Users of this web site are responsible for checking the accuracy, completeness, currency and/or suitability of all information. The inclusion of this information does not imply endorsement by Cabins USA Gatlinburg. Furthermore, specific questions regarding any content should be directed to the appropriate organization and not necessarily to Cabins USA Gatlinburg.

Cabins USA Gatlinburg Official Logo
star star star star star
849 Glades Rd., Unit 1A1
Gatlinburg, TN  37738
(865) 436-5031

VLS #157
Smoky Mountain Cabin Rentals
Guest Reservations
(800) 584-9872
2 Night Minimum

Cabins USA Gatlinburg Help Icon
Copyright 2013-2023, Cabins USA Gatlinburg, Gatlinburg, TN

Want to receive up to date information on cabin specials and events in the Smokies? Sign up for our newsletter! Simply provide a contact name and email so that we can reach you. Cabins USA Gatlinburg respects our guest's privacy and never shares this information with third-party sites. We treat any information that you share as confidential.

For each of the fields, please provide the following information:

There are several boxes that can be checked to broaden or narrow your search. Once you select your desired amenities or locations, simply click "search" to filter out available properties for your desired date. Once search results are provided, you can sort your results by bedrooms, name, rate, and rating.

After your first search, it isn't necessary to click the "search" button again as this feature will automatically filter your results for any new search features you provide, unless you change the date, the number of nights, or go to a new webpage.

It isn't necessary that you wait for a search to be completed before you select or deselect different search features.

When browsing results, you can add them to your "favorites" by clicking the red plus mark on the bottom left of your desired property. You can view your selected properties by click the "favorites" tab at the top of the search bar.

Add/Remove Favorites
When using our "search" feature, you can make a list of favorites. After doing an availability search for your desired vacation date, our site will produce a list of available cabins. Simply click the "+" sign on the lower left side of the property you are interested in.

Doing this will add the rental to your favorites list. You will notice that the "+" has now changed to a "-". You can click this minus sign to "unselect" this property from your favorites list.

You can also remove a property from your favorites list by clicking the minus sign to the right of the property name under the favorites tab. Additionally, you clear your favorites list by clicking "remove all" on the favorites bar. After doing this, you will have to perform a new availability search.
The number next to the favorites tab is the number of properties you have selected.

View List
To see all of your favorite rentals on one page, simply click "view list"

Compare Favorites
Under the favorites tab on the search bar, you can view your selected favorites. By checking the box next to your selected rentals, you can compare up to three properties.
Simply select the 2 – 3 properties you wish to compare, then click "compare" to see these rentals side-by-side.
Once you find your perfect rental for the right date, simply click "book now" to begin the booking process.