Alum Cave Trail Restoration: Frequently Asked Questions

The lower portion of the cliff face at Alum Cave Bluffs.
Alum Cave Bluff.

Photo by Bob Carr.

Starting on May 2, 2016, Alum Cave Trail and associated parking area will be closed to all visitor use, Monday through Thursday, for trail reconstruction. During the closure, overnight hikers to Mt. Le Conte should plan to access the peak by one of the five alternate routes including Boulevard, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bull Head, and Brushy Mountain trails. Parking is limited, especially at Rainbow Falls/Bull Head and Trillium Gap trailheads. Hikers are encouraged to carpool and arrive at trailheads by 9:00 a.m. for the best chance to find parking. Mt. LeConte Lodge will remain open during the construction process.

Why does Alum Cave Trail need to be restored?
This trail is one of the park's most popular trails, leading to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, and Mt. Le Conte. Rangers respond to numerous accidents on the trail each year, especially on the narrow upper section. There are several narrow areas where erosion and landslides have damaged sections of the trail, making it difficult to safely travel through the areas during inclement weather or to pass hikers coming from the opposite direction. By restoring these fragile trail sections, the park can best ensure long-term sustainability and safety.

What type of improvements will the crew make?
The Trails Forever crew will focus restoration efforts on several targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Crews plan to improve the overall trail safety by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion.

When will the trail be closed?

Alum Cave Trail will be closed May 2 through November 17 in 2016, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly.

Will the Mount LeConte Shelter be open?
The backcountry shelter will be closed Monday-Thursday from May 2 through October 13, 2016 to accomodate a youth conservation crew that will assisting with the trail restoration project. After October 14, hikers with backcountry permits for the shelter are advised to plan their route to and from the shelter with the trail closure in mind.

Will the Mount LeConte Lodge be open?
Yes! LeConte Lodge will continue to operate following their normal operating schedule. In 2016, the lodge is open March 21 through November 21. For more information on how to make overnight reservations, please visit www.lecontelodge.com.

Why can't hikers pass thorugh the construction zone on the trail?
Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary, Monday through Thursday each week, during the project for the safety of both the crew and visitors.
 
Rainbow Falls waterfall surrounded by forest trees.
Hikers pass Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot high waterfall, on the hike to Mount Le Conte via Rainbow Falls Trail.

Photo by C. Hoyer.

How else can I get to Mt. Le Conte?
There are multiple trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. The Boulevard, Bull Head, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, and Brushy Mountain trails all lead to Mt. Le Conte, but trailhead parking is limited. Carpooling is encouraged.

• Boulevard Trail: This 8.0-mile trail route, rated strenuous, begins at Newfound Gap where ample day and overnight parking are available. Newfound Gap is approximately 16 miles south of Gatlinburg, TN and 18 miles north of Cherokee, NC along Newfound Gap Road. The trail follows the Appalachian Trail for 2.7 miles to the junction where the Boulevard Trail branches left to Mt. Le Conte. The Boulevard Trail is a rolling trail following a narrow ridge with steep forested slopes on both sides. The trail is steep at the final ascent to Mt. Le Conte. You may occasionally encounter ice and snow in spring and fall on this trail.

• Rainbow Falls Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail: The 6.7-mile Rainbow Falls Trail, rated strenuous, passes Rainbow Falls at 2.7 miles, has impressive views and, in late June, provides a good place to see flowering rhododendron. The trail begins at the Rainbow Falls parking area, 3.4 miles up Cherokee Orchard Road from Gatlinburg, TN. In Gatlinburg turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail (Airport Road) to the right where the road becomes Cherokee Orchard Road and soon enters the park. Continue past the Noah "Bud" Ogle cabin to the trailhead which includes two parking areas. These parking lots tend to fill quickly. Please plan accordingly and arrive early, generally before 9:00 a.m., for the best chance to find parking.

• Bull Head Trail: The 7.0-mile Bull Head Trail route, rated strenuous, provides great views and summer wildflowers. The trail begins at the Rainbow Falls parking area, 3.4 miles up Cherokee Orchard Road from Gatlinburg, TN. In Gatlinburg turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail (Airport Road) to the right where the road becomes Cherokee Orchard Road and soon enters the park. Continue past the Noah "Bud" Ogle cabin to the trailhead which includes two parking areas. These parking lots tend to fill quickly. Please plan accordingly and arrive early, generally before 9:00 a.m., for the best chance to find parking.

• Trillium Gap Trail: This 6.5-mile trail, rated strenuous, begins at the Grotto Falls parking lot. To reach the parking lot from Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail (Airport Road) to the right where the road becomes Cherokee Orchard Road and soon enters the park. Continue past the Rainbow Falls Parking area to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Turn onto the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and follow for approximately 1.7 miles to the Grotto Falls parking lot. Along this trail, you’ll have the opportunity to see old-growth forests and walk behind Grotto Falls. Please note that this is the trail used by the llamas to get to LeConte Lodge on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This parking lot tends to fill quickly. Please plan accordingly and arrive early, generally before 9:00 a.m., for the best chance to find parking.

• Porters Creek/Brushy Mountain/Trillium Gap Trails: This 9.1-mile route, rated strenuous, begins in the Greenbrier section of the park at Porters Creek trailhead which is approximately 4 miles from the Greenbrier park entrance on Hwy 321. Porters Creek Trail passes through a historic area including a barn and cabin before its junction with Brushy Mountain Trail. Follow the trail 4.5 miles up the slope to the intersection with Trillium Gap Trail. From there, hikers continue for another 3.6 miles to Mt. Le Conte.

Can I park at Alum Cave Trailhead on Sunday if I am hiking out on Monday?
No. The parking area and trail will close on Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. Overnight parking on Sunday is prohibited. The parking area will be locked which blocks departure access for vehicles. In addition, the crew will begin working at 7:00 a.m. During construction, the trail is closed to all hikers for the safety of both hikers and the crew. Hikers are prohibited from hiking along the trail after 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning through Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Can I park at Alum Cave Trailhead on Thursday evening after 5:30 p.m.?
Yes, but remember most hikers take at least 5 hours to hike to Mt. Le Conte.

 
Rays of sunshine break through the clouds above Chimney Tops.
Sunrise above Chimney Tops.

Photo by Bob Carr.

Where else can I hike to see views of the mountains?
Hikers can enjoy other trails offering stunning views such as:

  • Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald - 3.6 miles roundtrip, moderate
  • Chimney Tops Trail - 4.0 miles roundtrip, strenuous
  • Mount Sterling - 5.4 miles roundtrip, moderate to strenuous
  • Shuckstack Tower - 7.0 miles roundtrip, strenuous
  • Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion - 8.0 mile roundtrip, moderate to strenuous
  • Gregory Bald - 9.0 miles roundtrip, strenuous
  • Mount Cammerer via Low Gap - 10.4 miles roundtrip, strenuous

What is Trails Forever?
Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated $500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations. For more information about Trails Forever, please visit www.friendsofthesmokies.org/trailsforever.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Phone:

(865) 436-1200
Visitor Information Recorded Message

Contact Us