Mt. Sterling offers incredible views of the North-Eastern portion of Great Smoky National Park. There is a fire tower on top of the mountain which only adds to the experience. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch the sun rise from the top of the fire tower, definitely a once in a lifetime event! The Big Creek Trail offers several waterfalls worth stopping at, as well as several swimming holes to cool of in the summer heat.
Great Smoky National Park, North Carolina
The Big Creek Campsite and trail head is just a few miles off I-40 near the North Carolina/Tennessee border. It is very easy to get to because of its close relation to the highway. The entrance to the campsite is Big Creek Entrance Rd which you access at the intersection of Mt. Sterling Rd and Waterville Rd. Big Creek Entrance Rd is a gravel road up to the campsite and picnic area. The road is very narrow in a few spots so be on the lookout for cars coming the opposite direction.
Address: Big Creek Entrance Rd, Newport, NC 37821
Day 1: Big Creek to Mt. Sterling (6.1miles)
After parking at the Big Creek campsites, follow the Baxster Creek Trail up to the Mt. Sterling Fire Tower. Right below the fire tower is campsite #38 where we stayed the first night. This 6mile hike has lots of elevation gain as you climb to the top of Mt. Sterling, but was not terribly difficult. We left Big Creek at 7:30pm and hiked the entire trail in the dark. Even at night the trail was not very hard. We arrived at campsite #38 around 1:00am.
Day 2: Mt. Sterling to Campsite #39 (10.5miles)
We followed the Mt. Sterling Trail to the Long Bunk Trial. Both trails were pleasant and easy to hike. The Long Bunk Trial intersects the Little Catalochee Trail, which we took toward the Pretty Hollow Gap Trial. The Little Catalochee Trail was one of the most miserable trails we have hiked in the Smokies. The trail was difficult and technical, there was a thick canopy the entire way making it very hot and muggy and preventing any breeze from finding its way through. Adding insult to injury, there were absolutely no good views on the trail.
Day 3: Campsite #39 to Campsite #37 (8miles)
Following the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail to the Swallow Fork Trail brought us to campsite #37. We did not stay at campsite #36 because it was full when we made campsite reservations. Both the Pretty Hollow Gap and Swallow Fork trail were easy pleasant trails. The views were nothing to write home about, but they were decent and much better that what we saw the day before.
Day 4: Campsite #37 to Big Creek Parking Lot (5.1miles)
From campsite #37 we simply followed the Big Creek Trail back to our car. The Big Creek Trail slowly descended back to the parking lot and was very easy, wide and well kept. On this trail there were two waterfalls that were worth seeing. The second waterfall poured into a large pool in which we went swimming. There were several other pools we passed that would have been amazing swimming holes. Once back at the Big Creek parking lot, we used the facilities there to change before driving home.
- The Big Creek campsite offers a place to park your car for this loop. There were also bathrooms and shower houses for the campsites. We did not stay at the Big Creek campsite, but it was very nice and would definitely worth staying at if it fit your hiking plans better.
- As discussed in the hike description, several of the trails were pleasant, but the Little Catalochee Trial was very difficult.
- The second night we were hit with vary hard rain that was not forecasted, so be aware that the weather can change quickly in the Smokies.
- Bring a swimsuit or something to get wet in! You will definitely want to spend some time swimming in one of the pools along the Big Creek Trail.
- Book your campsites as far in advance as you can. During the summer, places like Big Creek fill up on the weekends. Also, we stayed at campsite #37 which was a more primitive site because campsite #36 was full when we made reservations.