In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s a spot known as Arch Rock.
Here, you can hike directly through the “arch” of a big “rock”!
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You can make it a hike to arch rock and turn back around, although most people will keep going. There is another unique geological formation if you keep going, and then even more spectacular views if you keep going further. You can call this one of the great hiking trails of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Here are the main options for the Alum Cave Trail, which is the trail you’ll take to hike to Arch Rock.
1. Hike to Arch Rock and back
Around 2.8 miles roundtrip
Or keep going…
2. Hike to the Alum Cave Bluffs and back
Around 5 miles roundtrip
Or keep going…
3. Hike to Mt LeConte summit and back!
This will take you to around 6,593 ft (2,010m), said to be the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. The Mount LeConte hike is possibly THE solid day hike to do in the Smoky Mountains. This is around 10-11 miles round trip, depending on where you go once in the summit area.
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Below will focus on hiking to Arch Rock only.
Basics about the hike to Arch Rock
According to the National Park Service:
Arch Rock is one of the more unusual geologic formations in the Smokies, carved by tons of freeze-and-thaw cycles.
You’ll take the Alum Cave Trail to get to the Arch Rock
The distance of this hiking trail to Arch Rock is around 1.4 miles one way, so 2.8 miles round trip.
The elevation at the trailhead is around 3,834 ft (1,169m). The elevation at Arch Rock is around 4,389 ft (1,338m). So there is around a 555 ft elevation gain in 1.4 miles.
It is recommended to allow around 45 minutes to hike up to Arch Rock one way, and then you can expect that it will likely take a little less than 45 minutes to hike back down. So it could be good to give yourself around 2 hours for this hike.
The Alum Cave trailhead is on the popular Newfound Gap Road of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you’re coming from Gatlinburg, the drive to the trailhead is around a 25 minute drive… if there’s no traffic!
Parking near the trail to Arch Rock
All the top day hikes that can be found along Newfound Gap Road tend to have tons of cars parked around the trailhead.
Each trailhead, including the trailhead that takes you to Arch Rock, has a small parking lot.
When that fills up, you can find cars parking along the side of the road on the gravel shoulder.
With the Alum Cave Trail being among the top hikes in the Smoky Mountains, you can usually expect there to be a ton of cars throughout the day. This means it’s possible you might end up doing a short hike along Newfound Gap Road just to reach the Alum Cave trailhead!
Toilet near the trailhead
At the main parking lot of the Alum Cave Trail, there is a basic no-flush toilet.
Side note! See the more of the Smoky Mountains:
- Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains
- Best hikes with VIEWS in the Smoky Mountains
- Best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains
- Driving the scenic route from Gatlinburg to Clingman's Dome
- Driving the slow scenic route from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove
- The big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains
PHOTOS for a little bit of what to expect when hiking to Arch Rock!
I hiked to Arch Rock in late September 2020. Pictures are from that time.
And then you can back your way back down the mountain the way you just came…
And that’s a bit about hiking to Arch Rock in the Smoky Mountains!
Pack some picnic food, and the Chimneys picnic area can be the perfect spot to have a post-hike meal! You’ll find it on the drive back up north to Gatlinburg. If you’re driving in the opposite direction down south to North Carolina, then there’s the Collins Creek picnic area.
You’ll also find Smokemont Campground along Newfound Gap Road on the North Carolina side, and this can be a convenient campground to stay at if you’re planning on doing several of the Newfound Gap Road hikes aka great hikes in the Smoky Mountains with great views!
See more of the best hikes with VIEWS in the Smoky Mountains!
HAPPY HIKING TO SEE THE UNIQUE ROCK IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS!
Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky MountainsYou will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).
I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.
They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.
On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.
If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.
Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!