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Rip & Go: Big Creek Loop

Hike from a wildlife-choked river valley to soaring mountain views.

KEY SKILL: Massage away knee pain

It’s all downhill from Mt. Sterling—4,100 feet of joint-jarring descent over 6.2 miles. The plunge will test even the strongest knees. Massage away your pain by targeting the muscles that support the knee. Do this sequence when you arrive in camp, after the descent. 

1. Use your nondominant hand to support the knee.

Press down on the knee cap with your other palm and slowly knead upward on the quad.

Gently squeeze the quad between thumb and fingers, working up the thigh.
4. Massage the outer-knee muscles in a circular motion using your thumb.
5. Slowly work your way toward the shin to circle the knee and work the muscles on the knee’s interior. Repeat for other knee.
6. Take two ibuprofen, fill a hydration reservoir with creek water, and “ice” your knees for 15 minutes each.

SEE THIS: Yellow Trillium
With 1,660 different species of flowering plants, and staggered blooming seasons, the Smokies are like an enormous open-air flower shop. In early March, follow your nose around the Lower Walnut Bottoms’ calcium-rich soils for the lemon-scented yellow trillium, a spring ephemeral that opens above a platform of large, green-and-white speckled leaves. Then step back to absorb the entire multicolored tableau.

Unknown waterfalls in a park with 9 million annual visitors? Definitely—for those willing to earn it. At mile five on the Big Creek Trail, turn left on the Camel Fork Trail, then hike a mile to begin the Gunter Fork Trail. You’ll push through dense underbrush, test your routefinding skills traversing blowdowns, and ford Gunter Fork three times before you access the gem: a seldom-seen, 150-foot waterfall spilling over 6,234-foot Luftee Knob. “You come around a forested bend, and the high falls dominate your view,” says Stuart Peck (below). If you lose the trail, follow the river. “If you’re ascending or can’t hear the stream,” Peck says, “you’re going the wrong way.” 

Art Fightmaster, 46, of Gardnersville, Kentucky, loves the Smokies’ fall colors in October. Find Stuart Peck, 26, of Owensburg, Kentucky, climbing Jurassic Raccoon (5.7) in Kings Bluff, near Clarksville, Tennessee.

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