A Smoky Mountains firetower classic
12.2 miles: Difficult
Despite all of the great hiking right outside Asheville, many visitors can't resist the urge to drive to nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just one hour away. The Mount Sterling hike has become a favorite for several reasons.
First of all, getting to the trailhead does not require driving on the congested Newfound Gap Road, the main corridor of the park. Instead, hikers sneak into the northeast corner, driving barely 10 minutes off Interstate 40 before they hit the trailhead.
The Baxter Creek Trail slowly meanders up the side of Mount Sterling Ridge, passing by cascading creeks with mossy rocks and tunneling through dense groves of rhododendron. When hikers finally summit 5,842-foot Mt. Sterling, a fire tower greets them. Climb the stairs for spectacular views from this historical relic, built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
From the Big Creek ranger station, head south through the picnic area on the gated gravel road that leads to the Big Creek and Baxter Creek trails. The Baxter Creek Trail heads off to the left. This trail leads directly to Mount Sterling, with no trail junctions.
From Willow Winds, take Interstate 40 to exit 451, turning left off the interstate ramp. Follow the signs for Waterville and the Big Creek ranger station.