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Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Big Creek Loop

Climb Mt. Sterling and hike through history on this 16.4-mile loop through the eastern Smokies.

Rating

In a park know for abundant and beautiful creeks, they don’t get any better than the one called Big. And the first part of the route follows an old railroad grade—used to transport trees during the logging boom at the start of the 20th century—making for a gentle entry into the deceptively steep Smokies. Allow plenty of time for frequent stops at swimming holes and a waterfall in the first few miles of the hike: Midnight Hole is a deep blue gem just 1.4 miles in; Mouse Creek Falls is a 45-foot cascade just a bit farther. (Tip: Camp along the Big Creek Trail just beyond the old logging camp at Walnut Bottom.) Spend the second night atop 5,760-foot Mt. Sterling, where there’s a small glade with prime tent sites and a lookout tower with magical views.

To Trailhead

From Knoxville, follow I-40 to Waterville; exit SW. Turn R then veer L onto Waterville Rd. Follow straight to Big Creek entrance. Pass ranger station and park in lot just beyond Big Creek trailhead.

Great Smoky Mountains

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