Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that a 2 year trail restoration project will begin May 4, 2015 on Alum Cave Trail, one of the most popular trails for photographers in the National Park. The trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 4th through November 19, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 am through Thursday evenings at 5:30pm weekly. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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. Alum Cave Trail sees heavy use, it leads hikers to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mt. Le Conte, and LeConte Lodge. Park rangers respond to numerous accidents along the trail each year, especially along the upper, narrow corridors. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, reducing trail braiding, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion. There are also several narrow areas where erosion and small landslides have damaged significant 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 protect trailside natural communities from degradation.
Hikers can still reach Mt. Le Conte, LeConte Lodge, and the Le Conte Shelter by using one of the other five trails to the summit. The Mt. LeConte Lodge and Mt. Le Conte backcountry shelter will remain open and can be accessed from any of these other routes during the Alum Cave Trail closure. 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. Day hikers should also consider enjoying other trails offering stunning views such as Chimney Tops Trail, Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, or the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion.
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 including the recently restored Chimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge Trail. 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.
This is one of the most picturesque trails in the Smoky Mountains. I’m sure many photographers will be caught off guard with the closure and be disappointed. But I’m sure it will be worth the inconvenience in the long run.