Great Smoky Mountain N.P.
October 4-5, 2010
Near: Gatlinburg, TN
Route: The Chimneys Trail
Clingmans Dome walkway
Alum Cave Trail, Cliffs Trail
Type: Out and Back
Distance: 16.2 miles
Conditions: Mostly cloudy, cold, snowy
Impression: This was a great trip! i hiked up the 2.4 miles to the Chimney Tops and at a bit of lunch...the shifting clouds never ceased, displaying sections of the basin and surrounding mountain peaks, then quickly making them disappear...it was fun to sit up there for about a half hour, taking in the ever changing scenery...i had planned on hiking up to the Chimneys then over to the Sugarland Mountain Trail, however, the trail that was on my Nat. Geo. Smoky Mountains map is closed and impassable, so i turned around and headed back to my car...i decided then to go up to Clingmans Dome and have a look around there...the visibility at the parking lot was little to none, but i couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out the tower...the mountain, from the lot up, was covered with snow and ice, making what i could see very picturesque...i was alone on the summit for some time, which is very unusual, and snapped off some cool pics...afterward, i decided to get a hotel room, some food and beer and headed to Sevierville, TN where the rooms are much cheaper than Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge...
The next day, i woke up excited to hike the Alum Cave Trail, as i had heard it was one of the nicest trails in the Smokies...it did not disappoint...from the parking lot, the trail climbs almost 3000 feet over 5 miles to the summit of Mt. LeConte...awe inspiring scenery helps ease the difficulty of the ascent up, with streams, caves, tunnels, rocks and vistas (on clear days) seemingly around every corner...the temperature dropped about 20 degrees from the bottom to the top, so be prepared for that...at the end of the Alum Cave Trail there is Mt. LeConte Lodge, which has huts for rent and a staff that cooks lunch from 12 to 4...the mess hall was warm and a perfect place for lunch...the caretaker says that it's busy during the high season, so make reservations well in advance...from there, it's another .2 miles to Mt. LeConte Shelter and another .1 or so to the summit...it was very cold and snowy up there and fogged in...for the second time, i had no views from the top...the Cliffs Trail, across from the Lodge, leads to an outcropping of rock that i assume on a clear day provide spectacular views...
the hike back down the Alum Cave made the struggle up all worth it...quite honestly, it's easier to take in all the amazing scenery while gradually descending down the trail...this hike is not for everyone, and doing it in one day should be well planned - bring enough food and clothes to stay warm...since this is the most popular route up to Mt. LeConte, expect the trail to be crowded, but that won't take away from the grandeur of the Alum Cave Trail...this trail is a must!
Directions to Trailhead:
From Gatlinburg, TN take Hwy 441 south towards Cherokee for both trails...The Chimneys Trail is @ 7.5 miles down, while the Alum Cave Trail is @ 9 miles away...to get to Clingmans Dome, turn right on Clingmans Dome Road and follow that to the parking lot...