Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The park was marked an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It provides over 800 miles of trails (I only explored less than 15), making it a top hiking destination in the Eastern U.S. With more than 520,000 acres, it welcomes more than 11.3 million recreational visitors annually, and is the most visited out of the 59 National Parks (Grand Canyon coming in second at 4.6 million).
Alum Cave trail is one of the most popular trails in these woods. With unmatchable geological features and viewing points, I guided through Arch Rock and the accomplished mark of Alum Cave itself, which is more like a concave bluff. The roughly five-mile round trip, moderately difficult, trail gains an elevation of nearly 1200 feet.
I started crossing Walker Camp Prong and log bridges as I rose up through the hardwood forests. The most unique site was walking through the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock, gripping onto the wire rail for support. From there, I went through Peregrine Peak and viewed the beauty of mountain laurel and rhododendron flowering, evergreens. Overlooking a full panoramic view of the Smokies, I stopped at Inspiration Point, rightfully named for its inspiring view. I then came upon Alum Cave, with water dripping from the ledges above and breathtaking views. I felt an even greater sense of accomplishment. Those seeking a more challenging adventure have the option to continue onto the summit of Mount LeConte, sitting at over 6500 feet.
As I walked through the trees, over the river, and higher into the mountains, I remained in complete awe. At moments I understood the power of nature, as conceptualized by the Native American people. In modern society, it’s so easy to become consumed by our phones, schedules, and running around to keep up with day-to-day life. On this trail, in this moment, it was only about myself and nature around me, and the occasional “hello” from fellow hikers. The sounds, smells, and sights were overwhelmingly clear, like seeing the world for the first time.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart . . . and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean” — John Muir.
This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here