Alum Cave

Useful Information

Location: Between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. From Sugarlands Visitor Center 14 km on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) to the Alum Cave Trail parking area. From Oconaluftee Visitor Center 32 km on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) to the Alum Cave Trail parking area.
(35.639665588086416, -83.44610160668115)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: A=1,510 m asl, H=24 m, L=152 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park NC, 07 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, Tel: +1-865-436-1200.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1837 first recorded account of Alum Cave.
06-DEC-1838 land sold to the three farmers by the State Tennessee.
1838 Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company established, begin of mining.
1854 salts depleted, Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company sold.
2015-16 the Trails Forever program restores large sections of the trail at higher elevations.


The three farmers, Ephraim Mingus, Robert Collins, and George W. Hayes from the Oconaluftee Indian Village in the Great Smoky Mountains applied at the Sevier County (Tennessee) Land Office for a grant of a 50-acre (20ha) tract of land. The land would include Alum Cave and its salt deposits which included alum, magnesium sulfate, saltpeter, magnesia, and copperas. They applied in 1837 and on 06-DEC-1838 the tract of land was sold to the three men by the state Tennessee. They formed the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company to mine the deposit. It lasted only a few years, in the mid-1840s the easily accessible salts were depleted. Mining resumed shortly during the Civil War, obviously less accessible saltpeter was mined for gunpowder production. Mining finally ended with the Civil War.

Today the cave is actually known as a walking trail named Alum Cave Trail located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is the shortest and steepest of the five trails leading to the Le Conte massif. It is said to be the most scenic route, probably a result of its short length and many notable landmarks, such as Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, the Duckhawk Peaks, and Cliff Top. Notable is Little Duck Hawk Ridge with the Eye of the Needle, a round, see-through hole in the side of Little Duck Hawk Ridge. Arch Rock is a large black slate rock with a natural arch which is crossed via stairs and steel cables acting as handrails. Its probably more like a cave than Alum Cave, which is actually just an overhanging cliff face. It is also called Alum Cave Bluffs and the trail follows the overhang for .

The distance from the trailhead to the summit of Mount Leconte (2,009 m asl) is 8.2 km or 3 h one way. If you want to walk to the summit its definitely a day trip and requires physical fitness and surefootedness. There is the LeConte Lodge on the way why which offers at least a meal. Alum Cave is actually located after one third of the trail, so if you only want to go there and back, its more or less a 3 h roundtrip. This part of the trail is a moderate hike with a slight rise in elevation.