We recommend the hike to Alum Cave to just about anyone physically able. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, if not the most popular. In season, be prepared to park and access the trail from a busy and usually full parking area/trailhead. Located on the Tennessee side of the park, this trail takes you up and along Alum Cave Creek on a gentle grade for approx. 1.5 miles. Here you'll be just under "Arch Rock." This rock was formed by many years of freezing and thawing of the softer rock that was found beneath the now apparent harder rock. The soft rock eroded away and left what today is "Arch Rock." Continue up the staircase that takes you directly throught the rock for approx. 0.5 mile to the predominant "Inspiration Point." Here you'll have fantastic views of "Little Duck Hawk Ridge" to the West and "Myrtle Point" on the top of Mount LeConte to the Northeast. Be sure to look for the "Eye of the Needle" that is an actual hole in the top of Little Duck Hawk's ridgeline. You're almost to Alum Cave. Just another tenth of a mile or so you'll be at Alum Cave. It really isn't a cave but more of a concave cliff that is about 75 ft. high.
The history behind Alum Cave is two fold. It is said that the Confederate soldiers mined the cave for saltpeter that could be manufactured into gunpowder during the Civil War. The cave was also mined for Epsom Salts by the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company in the mid 1800's. The local people used the epsom salts to dye their clothes a rust color.
The Alum Cave Trail continues on up to the summit of Mount LeConte, the third highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We also recommend the hike to Mt. LeConte's summit, but would like to strongly suggest you plan ahead of time to make sure you'll have plenty of daylight and proper supply with you to make the 11-mile, strenuous roundtrip hike. You will also need to be aware of the weather situation for that day. Take your camera and binoculars along with plenty of drinking water and snacks to help make your day in the park more enjoyable and safe.
From Cherokee, NC
From Cherokee, NC take U.S. Hwy-441 North into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue on the curvy yet scenic hwy for 23.5 miles to the small and usually crowded parking area on the right.
From Gatlinburg, TN
From Gatlinburg, TN take U.S. Hwy-441 South/TN Hwy-71 into Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 10.4 miles to the parking area for Alum Cave Trail on your left.