“One of the toughest climbs in the Smokies pays off with a rewarding view atop Mount Sterling.
— Max Willner
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).