Past Meetup

Backpacking Big Creek/Baxter Creek Loop

This Meetup is past

2 people went


Advanced Hike due to elevation gain and mileage.

Overview of the Route

Mt. Sterling is located on the east side of GSMNP. It can be reached via several routes and trailheads. The route described here is a loop hike, utilizing Big Creek Trail. This is a strenuous 16.43 mile round trip hike that includes approximately 4,100 feet of vertical gain.

Getting There

From Knoxville Exit I-40 at exit 451 - Waterville Road to reach the Big Creek area of GSMNP. It is a 3.4 mile drive from the exit to Big Creek.The trailhead for Big Creek Trail is located near the picnic area parking lot in Big Creek Campground.

Campsites are $12.00 per site at Big Creek Campground. Backcountry reservation fees are $4.00 per person, per night. We can meet for carpooling on Friday after work or earlier if everyone is willing. Please send messages to set up car pools. I have only one spot available in my truck.

Route Summary

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 Smokies. We can start early to 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. We will spend the night atop 5,760-foot Mt. Sterling, where there's a small glade with prime tent sites and a lookout tower with magical views. (Note: Bear activity occasionally closes the campsite so I will check website and with Rangers. Next morning, head left onto the Baxter Creek Trail and tackle the trail’s toughest miles: a 4,100-foot descent in less than six miles. Cross Big Creek at mile 16.3 and close the loop at the campground.

If we have time

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.


We will hike rain or shine. Rain and cold weather gear is a must in the Smokies in April.

3 dinners 2 lunches 2 breakfast and/or trail snacks.