We still have some of the snow left on the ground from last week’s mini-storm, though the temperatures have been slowly creeping up
The first morning in the Smokies we hiked the Alum Cave trail. We got to the trailhead at what we thought was a fairly early hour… at about 8:30am (after a leisurely camp breakfast of hot coffee and cold pastries) and the parking area at the trailhead was already completely full. Completely. We ended up parking about 20 yards away from the parking area at the side of the road, along with the rest of the spillover vehicles.
Granted, a lot of the cars were covered in a thick coat of frost, and had obviously been there overnight. Those folks had undoubtedly started out the previous day for Mount LeConte, which is about a two-day roundtrip hike, with an overnight at up at the top. (There are actually a few primitive cabins at the top of Mount LeConte that you can reserve for overnight trips.)
We have been on this trail before, the first time that we went to the Smokies. That first time, it was a little later in the year and was already cool enough and snowy enough that as we got into the higher elevations on the trail, we made little snowmen and left them at the sides of the trail. There was snow on the trail again this year, but not nearly as much.
The first mile-and-a-half or so of the trail is through pretty thick forest along a good-sized stream. After you pass through Arch Rock, you start to go up in elevation a lot faster, and soon break out of the forest and into some pretty spectacular scenery and mountain views.
On the way down, we encountered a couple with some small kids at Arch Rock, who wanted to know if that “was it”… if they had reached Alum Cave. They were slightly disheartened to be informed that Alum Cave was still a couple of miles away.
Alum Cave isn’t really a cave, so much as it is a bluff… a huge, deep overhang on the trail where the Confederate army mined alum and saltpeter for gunpowder during the Civil War.
If you stay on the trail past Alum Cave, you will continue on several miles further to the Rainbow Falls Trail, and on a little further to the top of Mount LeConte.
It is a beautiful trail in the fall, with the spectacular vistas and the gorgeous leaf color.