BIG CREEK TRAIL Campsite #37 August 14 & 15
The distances and a bit of the included narrative are from the Hiking trails of the Smokies Book.
I was looking forward to my son and my first backpacking trip together. We had been out once before with friends but this was our first wholly planned and executed trip. We selected the Big Creek Trail and Campsite #37 based on feedback and suggestions from the Backpacker.com Southern Forum. The trip was a relatively flat trail, and our criteria included; a fairly easy trek, access to swim or cool off, and the ability to day hike from our campsite. The Big Creek Trail and Campsite 37 seemed like the perfect fit!
Trailhead: Big Creek Picnic Area: My son and I arrived at the Big Creek Campground/ Hiker Parking for the Big Creek Trail at about 12:30pm on a Friday afternoon to find the parking area full. A kind Park Ranger directed us to park in the Horse Trailer parking area, which was fine. The Big Creek Trail begins at the gated road uphill from the parking area and is well marked.
The Big Creek Trail was a slight uphill climb for the full 5.2 miles to Campsite 37. The trail is a joint horse and hiking trail and seemed to get a good amount of horse traffic based on the amount of horse manure on the trail. The horses also kicked up a lot of rocks so you had to pay attention to where you stepped. The manure and rocks are our only complaints about the trail as it is otherwise fairly wide, well maintained and very scenic. The trail follows Big Creek up the hill and is the source of many awesome river views of clear water, rock and small cascades.
There was a lot of swimmer foot traffic between the trailhead and Midnight Hole (1.4 miles). Here the waters of Big Creek flow between two large boulders and pour six feet into a deep, large pool. This was a very popular swimming site on this hot August afternoon. A bit further up the trail, Mouse Creek Falls (2 miles) is a beautiful 20’+ waterfall that was popular with the day hike crowd.
At 2.3 miles, the trail crosses Big Creek on a sturdy bridge at the head of a beautiful pool and joins the old logging grade which comes in from the left. The bridge was a psychological victory as it signaled half-way of the trip. This is a good resting spot to enjoy a drink of water and the view looking up the creek is among the best on the trip.
At 4.0 miles the trail crosses a small unnamed stream and another at 4.5 miles that flows from Flint Rock Cove. We think that one of these was a cement reinforced crossing. This is a good landmark that is not included in the Hiking book descriptor. At 5.1 miles a sign marks the beginning of the Swallow Fork Trail which climbs left 4.0 miles to Pretty Hollow Gap on the Mount Sterling Ridge. Just beyond, the trail crosses Big Creek on a bridge to reach the Lower Walnut Campsite #37 (hikers only) at 5.3 miles. It took us about 3h 30m to hike in (I’m the slow one – mid forties and close to 50lbs overweight). I’m also packing heavy as someone new to the sport and think I was close to 40 lbs in my Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian. I packed in (3) 32oz Nalgene bottles of water and 10 adult beverage equivalents, along with steaks for night one. I didn’t need to carry that much water and the adult beverages soothed the sore muscles that eveningJ.
The Campsite is on a bend on the creek. The first visible sites are on the right of the trail. We selected one on the left as we discovered there were three or four nice sites along the creek. There were ample bear hangs in the Campsite. We were first to the Campsite and were eventually joined by four other small groups. Kenneth and his son Cameron were on a loop hike, Ryan and his hiking partner from Kentucky were also overnighters on the way somewhere further, and there were two couple that I did not get the chance to speak with. There was plenty of room to spread out and the site did not feel crowed although not as private as I would have preferred. The creek was very rocky with deeper pools to sit in and cool off. There was a bigger cleared area in the creek near the bridge. It spit rain for a while in the evening and rained briefly but pretty hard. The tree canopy sheltered us from the most of the rail. Also gave me a chance to try out the rain fly on our Kelty Teton II. It was surprisingly chilly in the early hours of the morning and we were wishing we had brought more that just our bag liners to sleep in.
The Big Creek Trail and Campsite 37 delivered as advertised. My son had a soccer game Sunday that he decided he didn’t want to miss so we traced our path out the next morning (2h 45m out – remember down hill and lighter load). I would have pushed to stay the extra day but I do not want to push to hard on the new sport for fear of pushing my son away from it. He seemed to enjoy the time and I know that I sure did. With everyone’s busy schedules, it seems harder and harder to find the time and opportunities to make real connections and great memories with my family, especially my son. I’m sure that this trip will be one he remembers.