5 Iconic Features on the Alum Cave Trail to Look For

February 23, 2024

The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most famous hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s the most popular way to hike to the summit of Mount LeConte. This trail has a lot of amazing things throughout your hike. In fact, there are so many iconic features in the first half of the trail that many people only go about halfway. Whether you hike all the way up to Mount LeConte or turn around at the Alum Cave Bluffs, you’re sure to see some fantastic sights along the way! Here are some of the iconic features on the Alum Cave Trail that you should keep an eye out for.

1. Arch Rock

After about 1.4 miles of hiking along the Alum Cave Trail, you’ll come across the famous Arch Rock. You will cross a log footbridge over Alum Cave Creek and into the 20-foot-wide opening of this gigantic slate rock structure. This awe-inspiring rock formation was formed by many years of freezing, thawing, and the erosion of softer rock. Inside, you’ll find steep and narrow steps to lead you to the rest of the trail at the top.

2. Inspiration Point

view of mountain landscape from Alum Cave Trail

Past Arch Rock, the Alum Cave Trail will start to open up and then turn sharply right. At the 2.0 mile mark, you’ll find yourself at Inspiration Point. This unobstructed spot offers breathtaking views of the mountain landscape. In the surrounding bald is Huggins Hell, a jungle of impenetrable brush. The high peaks you can see around you include Anakeesta Ridge, Chimney Tops, and Sugarland Mountain. This is a great spot to rest and enjoy the tranquility of nature before continuing on your hike.

3. Eye of the Needle

While you’re stopped at Inspiration Point, see if you can find the Eye of the Needle. Directly in front of you you’ll see Little Duckhawk Ridge and Big Duckhawk Ridge, which look like two knife-like protrusions of rock. If you look closely at the highest point of Little Duckhawk Ridge, you can see the Eye of the Needle. This giant hole straight through the rock is one of the most iconic sights along the Alum Cave Trail. It may be easier to spot on the way back down the trail in the afternoon.

4. The Log Steps

Stairs to Alum Cave BluffsAfter you leave Inspiration Point, hike another 0.2 miles to reach the dreaded log steps. These steps will lead you up to the famous Alum Cave Bluffs. The sight of these stairs can be intimidating, but they are actually quite useful to get up such a steep hill. There’s a handy cable next to them that you can use to help you keep your balance during your climb.

5. Alum Cave Bluffs

Once you reach the top of the steep steps, you’ll find yourself at Alum Cave Bluffs. This iconic spot is located 2.3 miles from the trailhead. Alum Cave Bluffs is a dusty rock overhang with some of the rarest, driest minerals in the world. Even when the air and ground outside are wet, the ground beneath this rock shelter stays dry. Many hikers choose to turn around at this point after capturing photos of the impressive rock formation and views. If you continue past this point, the Alum Cave Trail will take you up to Mount LeConte.

More Trails to Reach the Summit of Mount LeConte

The Alum Cave Trail is the most popular trail to take to reach the summit of Mount LeConte, partially because of the amazing sights to see and partially because it’s the shortest route. However, each of the trails to Mount LeConte offers its own unique views and features. Check out these other trails you can hike to get to the summit of Mount Leconte so you can choose your own favorite!