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Baxter Creek Trail

 4.6 (14)

One of the toughest climbs in the Smokies pays off with a rewarding view atop Mount Sterling.

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Point to Point

5,813' 1,772 m


1,699' 518 m


4,114' 1,254 m


128' 39 m



Avg Grade (7°)


Max Grade (16°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife


From the trailhead located at the Big Creek campground, hikers can expect a steep ascent - roughly 4,200 feet in 6.1 miles. This is considered a strenuous trail and the toughest approach out of several to the historic fire tower, but visitors will be rewarded with one of the most fabulous views of the Smokies from Mount Sterling.

The trail will take hikers across a steel bridge and along the Baxter Creek through a densely wooded area. There will be ample water sources along the way, just be sure to purify your water - never drink directly from the source. Eventually, the trail will ascend above the valley and creek and align itself with the Mount Sterling Ridge.

At the end of Baxter Creek Trail, visitors will find themselves at the Smokey Mountain Campsite 38, next to the historic fire tower built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The elevation here is 5,842 feet. The fire tower itself is a 60-foot climb, but well worth the wonderful panoramic view of the Smokey Mountains.

This can be part of an incredibly fun loop that would take roughly 3 days, in which adventurers will start on the Big Creek Trail, staying at campsite 37 at Walnut Bottom. From there, one can continue to Swallow Fork Trail, then to Mount Sterling Ridge Trail to the fire tower and campsite 38 before completing their journey by descending Baxter Creek Trail.

Flora & Fauna

Flowering plants bloom between March and July. In the fall, leaves begin to change color around September and continue through November. Two of the most common trees in this area are the mountain laurels (Kalmia latinfolia) and umbrella magnolias (Magnolia tripetala).

As for local fauna, black bears are common in the area, along with white-tailed deer and 31 species of salamanders.

For more information on black bears in the Smokies, refer to this webpage.

Birdwatchers can spot a variety of species, notably the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus).


Shared By:

Max Willner

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 14 votes


in Big Creek


  4.6 from 14 votes
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6,343 Since Jul 28, 2015



Forest on Baxter Creek Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Jul 28, 2015 near Cove Creek, NC
Forest on Baxter Creek Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Jul 28, 2015 near Cove Creek, NC
The awesome panoramic view atop the Mt. Sterling fire tower.
Oct 31, 2015 near Cove Creek, NC
A sunny morning on the Baxter Creek Trail about a mile or so above its namesake creek, as it passes through a rhododendron tunnel.
Apr 22, 2019 near Cove Creek, NC
Big Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Jul 28, 2015 near Cove Creek, NC
The early morning offers gorgeous views from the fire tower atop Mount Sterling.
Jan 16, 2017 near Cove Creek, NC



Current Trail Conditions

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All Clear 87 days ago See History
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Nov 3, 2020
Brian Nix
Tough climb but awesome views from the top of the fire tower. Finished the day hiking to the Laurel Gap shelter for the night. — 6h 30m
Sep 2, 2019
Paul Warner
4h 20m
Jul 14, 2019
Matt Milburn
Jul 13, 2019
Kayla Long
Jul 13, 2019
Matt Milburn
Apr 30, 2019
Dale Koeneman
Apr 28, 2019
Alex Most
Apr 27, 2019
Michael Holman
A difficult trail with a big pay-off at the end. Just be sure to keep an eye on your footing as there are tons of roots crossing the trail.