Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Hiking Sterling Mountain


Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Saturday June 10, 2023

This was by far the longest day hike I have done to date coming in just over nine-teen miles in under twelve hours. Starting off in the Big Creek parking lot I decided to take Baxter Creek up. It is steeper than the other ways but only about a five-mile climb. My thinking was better to get the climb out of the way and enjoy the longer downhill. It worked out perfectly and I am glad I did it that way as my feet were hurting by the end of this one. 

Click Here For My AllTrails Recording

My Route:

1. Baxter Creek …................... 6.1 Miles

2. Mt. Sterling Ridge .............. 1.4 Miles

3. Swallow Fork ..................... 4.0 Miles

4. Big Creek .......................... 5.1 Miles

There was quite a bit of a blowdown along Baxter Creek, but nothing was too terribly difficult to get around. The trail is quite pleasant with some larger trees and on this day the green was just popping. The downside to this trail is there are not a lot of places to see a view of the surrounding mountains. Around the five-mile mark as you get to the summit there is one little spot to take in a view and then a weather observing tower next to backcountry campsite No. 38. I took my coffee and lunch break and then hopped back on trail to make my way down.  

Once you hit the weather tower the hike for the next couple of miles will be along a ridge line. It will be mostly downhill though some uphill will be mixed in. I love hiking ridgelines because you get some nice airflow over them and in the upper elevations on a balmy day the cool air feels great. As you circle back around most of the downhill will start on Swallow Fork. This trail seemed a little less used than the others I was on as sections of this trail were overgrown in spots. As you descend little creeks and streams start to appear and then turn into bigger ones. This trail felt very peaceful, and I enjoyed hiking it a lot. 

After Swallow Fork you hit the junction with Big Creek that takes you back to the parking lot and completes this loop. Big Creek seems a lot more well maintained but is littered with bigger rocks and after a long day that does not help one’s footing. There are several good spots along this trail to just sit and take in the sights and sounds of rushing water. Around the two-to-two-and-a-half-mile mark you hit Mouse Creek Falls. This is a beautiful waterfall just off the trail running down the mountain side. Then another quarter to half mile you have a pretty, little watering hole where I took a break and soaked my hurting feet. 

In my video and while I was there, I thought I was at Midnight Hole, but that was not the case. Midnight Hole is a lot bigger and the crowd there was mindboggling. With my feet hurting and the large crowd I did not film anything and just kept moving down the trail. From Midnight Hole to the trail head is a two-mile hike. All said and done AllTrails had me at 19.18 miles. 

Another outstanding hike in the books and I cannot wait to explore this area some more and maybe even do a cold weather camp up at the higher elevation. I would recommend this one and as always hike on and stay safe.

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