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Pets allowed
No
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
17.00 mi (27.36 km)
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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!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Challenging trail. Varied landscape. Sweeping views. Accessible.

Cons

Limited parking.

Trailhead Elevation

1,800.00 ft (548.64 m)

Net Elevation Gain

4,200.00 ft (1,280.16 m)

Address

Big Creek Pa Comfort Station
Newport, NC 37821
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Waterfalls
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers

Suitable for

Horseback

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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