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Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

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Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop

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  • Creek running along the Big Creek Loop.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Midnight Hole swimming hole.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Mouse Tail Falls.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Junction with the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Serene mossy stream along the climb.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • View from the fire tower.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Mount Guyot.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Sun setting behind the trees.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Sun dipping below the horizon.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Dawn from the fire tower.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Sun beams through the clouds.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Morning light filling the valley.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • View over the trees.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Flowers along the return trail.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
  • Lush green on the way back.- Mount Sterling via Big Creek Loop
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Challenging trail. Varied landscape. Sweeping views. Accessible.
Cons: 
Limited parking.
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Region:
Smoky Mountains, NC
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Net Elevation Gain: 
4,200.00 ft (1,280.16 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
17.00 mi (27.36 km)
Trail type: 
Loop
Trailhead Elevation: 
1,800.00 ft (548.64 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

Sporting one of the only 4,000-foot climbs on the eastern seaboard, Mount Sterling and the fire tower that sits atop the 5,842-foot summit makes up one of the most popular day-hiking and overnight trips in the eastern half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mount Sterling was named after a 2-foot-wide streak of lead in the Pigeon River at the northern base; locals mistook the lead for silver, and the name stuck.

During the Civil War, the remote valleys around Mount Sterling accounted for some of the more popular areas for deserters from Confederate and Union armies to hide. This remoteness can still be felt today, and the trails feel just as remote as anywhere else in the park despite the proximity to the interstate.

While the summit can be accessed via the 2.7-mile Mount Sterling Trail, a grander loop following the Big Creek Trail and the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail is a much more scenic and varied trip given two days to complete the trip. Starting at Baxter Creek Campground, follow the gentle slope along Big Creek and pass two other views that motivate many day hikers on their own: Midnight Hole, popular for swimming, and Mouse Tail Falls are both right off of the main trail, and they help you forget that the main climb is still required to get to the backcountry campsites on the summit. Soon after passing the falls, turn left to start climbing up to the ridge, which flattens out somewhat as you make the final push. The fire tower comes as a welcome sight, marking the end of your 4,200-foot climb. And don’t forget you have to drop all that elevation the next morning!

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(5 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(21 within a 30 mile radius)

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