The Big Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Midnight Hole is a popular summertime swimming hole in Big Creek

Big Creek ranger district is found on the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a small campground for 12 sites for tents only. The popular and crystal clear swimming spot, Midnight Hole, is found here.

This mountain watershed is one of the largest and most scenic in the park. Flanked by the towering Mt. Sterling to the south and Mt. Cammerer to the north, Big Creek has an abundance of scenic beauty. Experience the grandeur of this clear mountain stream and surrounding forest any time of year for an experience you’ll never forget!

Things to do at Big Creek

Mouse Creek Falls at Big Creek Smoky Mountains National Park

Mouse Creek Falls on Big Creek Trail

Camping
Campground is open April 10 – October 31. With only 12 tent sites, Big Creek is the smallest campground in the park. RVs are not allowed. The campground is described as a walk-in campground because you park your car in a small parking lot and walk about 100-300 feet to your site. Some sites are on a small mound above, others are closer to the river. Each site has a tent pad, grill, a picnic table, and a pole for a lantern. A restroom, with flush toilets and cold water sinks, is located in the small parking area. You should bring everything you need with you since the closest grocery store is in Newport, Tennessee, about a 30-minute drive from Big Creek. Camp sites are first-come first-served. For more information visit www.nps.gov.                           

Hiking at Big Creek

  • Big Creek Trail – Beginning above the picnic area follow an old railroad grade for just over 5 miles to Walnut Bottom Campsite #37. For an easy hike, take Big Creek Trail for 1.5 miles to Midnight Hole. The water flows between two huge boulders and into a large pool. This swimming hole is a favorite for kids of all ages. Another 0.5 mile takes you to Mouse Creek Falls, a 25-foot cascade located on the left as you go up. Look for a horse hitching rail as your signpost for the falls.
  • Chestnut Branch Trail – Beginning at the Ranger Station near the entrance to Big Creek. This trail climbs out of the drainage area through a dense second growth forest 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail.
  • Baxter Creek Trail – Take the steel foot bridge across Big Creek at the picnic area to begin this tough 6.2 mile climb to the summit of Mt. Sterling. An amazing view awaits the brave few who climb the old fire tower at the end of the trail.

big-creek-trailhead-heysmokiesHorse Camp and Facilities
Open April 10 – October 31. There are five campsites with potable water available. For more information visit www.nps.gov.

Picnicking at Big Creek
A large picnic area, with its own parking lot, separates the tents-only campground from the horse camp. Running water and flush toilets can be found a half mile past the picnic area at the campground.

Fishing at Big Creek
Big Creek and the nearby Pigeon River are a favorite for anglers. Rainbow trout, small mouth bass and more can be found in these waters. Either a Tennessee www.tn.wildlifelicense.com or North Carolina www.ncwildlife.org fishing license is required in the park. If fishing outside the park stay aware of your location. This area straddles the state line and you definitely need the correct license for the state you are fishing in.

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White water rafting near Big Creek

Rafting near Big Creek
White water rafting is a thriving business on the nearby Pigeon River. Enjoy a raging 5-mile white water experience or dial back the adrenaline on a scenic float trip. Most outfitters have an outpost in Hartford, Tennessee, five miles north of the Waterville Road exit on Interstate 40. Visit HeySmokiesRafting.com for rafting outfitters.

How to Get to Big Creek

From Gatlinburg 
Take Highway 321 East to Cosby, Tennessee. Turn left at the “T” and continue on to the Great Smoky Mountains Foothills Parkway. Turn right on the Parkway and proceed 7 miles to Interstate 40. Turn right on I-40 and head south toward Asheville, North Carolina. Drive 7 miles on I-40 and take the Waterville Road exit. Turn right on Waterville Road crossing the Pigeon River and drive 5 miles to the entrance of Big Creek.

From Asheville/Maggie Valley 
Take Interstate 40 North. After crossing the Tennessee state line take the Waterville Road exit. Turn left on Waterville Road crossing the Pigeon River and drive 5 miles to the Big Creek entrance.

History of Big Creek

Big Creek is steeped in mountain history. This land was once home to the Cherokee Nation before the arrival of Europeans. For generations they farmed and hunted this land as their society thrived. European settlers occupied the land after the forced removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. The new inhabitants wasted little time building churches, ballfields, hunting lodges, homes and more. As the Anglo population soared in these pristine forests, the Smoky Mountains began to attract the attention of unscrupulous lumber barons from the Northeast. As Northern forests were depleted, a greedy nation quickly turned to logging this virgin timber. Railroads and mill towns sprang up almost overnight and during the next few decades millions of board feet of lumber were removed leaving the mountains nearly clear cut  and ruining the ecosystem for many years.
The creation of the National Park put an end to the lumber industry and the healing process began for the forest. As you wander through this amazing place try and imagine no trees for as far as you can see.  It is hard to do when the view is limited to just a few feet because of all the trees; however, this would have been your experience if not for the realization of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Cataloochee Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cataloochee is a tucked-away destination and its special beauty offers an appeal to all interests and ages. Bring blankets or folding chairs and a picnic, and set up camp for a long afternoon along the large meadow of Cataloochee Valley to watch for the appearance of the elk herd.

Elk in Cataloochee

Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Lace up those hiking boots and venture down some of the interesting trails located within the park boundaries.  Campers will be awed after sundown by the multitude of stars that are visible in the low light of this remote valley. Anglers are sure to enjoy searching out the perfect spot along a rushing creek to land an elusive trout. The equestrian set will appreciate the horse camp and the many trails available.

  • Fishing: Cataloochee Creek and all its tributaries feature an abundant wild trout population. A Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required within park boundaries and may be acquired at nearby communities or online from North Carolina at ncwildlife.org or in Tennessee at tn.wildlifelicense.com.
  • Camping: a 27-site primitive campground is located in the valley and is open mid-March through October for tents or RVs up to 31 feet. Group camping is available through advanced reservations. Back country camping requires  a permit. For more info, go to recreation.gov.
  • Horse Camp: reservations are required and maybe obtained by calling 877-444-677 or logging onto recreation.gov.
  • Hiking: One of the more popular trails in Cataloochee is the seven-mile loop Boogerman Trail that winds through towering old-growth forests. The Little Cataloochee Trail meanders down an old road that leads past several historical structures.

Getting There
The easiest way to reach Cataloochee is from Interstate 40. Take the North Carolina exit #20 (Maggie Valley) and turn right into Cove Creek Road.

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The Cosby Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cosby Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perfect for those who are looking for somewhere a bit off the beaten path and away from the big crowds in the park. Nestled on the northeastern side of the Smoky Mountains, Cosby is a great destination for hikers, cyclists, campers, horse lovers, and the locals!

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The Historic Fire Tower atop Mt. Cammerer (Photo: Kirkendal/Spring Photographers)

Great Hikes in Cosby

Cosby Nature Trail – 1 mile roundtrip
This is a terrific one-mile long nature trail beginning at the Cosby Campground near the outdoor amphitheater. A great little walk through a bit of old-growth forest, which Cosby Creek runs through, is magical any time of the year.

Hen Wallow Falls – 4.2 miles roundtrip
Hike to Hen Wallow Falls on Gabes Mountain Trail which begins across the road from the Picnic Area just before the entrance to Cosby Campground. One of the main highlights of this trail is the big trees of the old-growth forest.  A spur trail steeply descends to the right at mile 2.1 to lead to the base of the waterfall. Use extra caution when stepping on the slippery rocks.

Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower – 11 miles roundtrip
This strenuous hike begins on Low Gap Trail located near the designated parking lot for hikers near the Cosby Campground Picnic Area. Low Gap Trail, which is horse-friendly, climbs steeply for 3 miles before intersecting with the famous Appalachian Trail (AT). Take a left on the AT towards the Mt. Cammerer Trail. At almost the 5-mile mark, you’ll find the spur trail that leads the summit of the 4,928 ft. tall mountain. From here, it’s about seven-tenths of a mile to the historic fire tower with views of the beautiful Pigeon River Gorge.

Sutton Ridge Overlook – 3 miles roundtrip
The hike to Sutton Ridge Overlook begins on Low Gap Trail for about four-tenths of mile to intersect with horse-friendly Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail. At about mile 1.4 mile you’ve reached the overlook. Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail continues on to access backcountry campsite #35 and then on to intersect with the Appalachian Trail.

Poet Laureate of the Smokies & WWII POW Ella V. Costner Gravesite – less than 1 mile roundtrip
The graveyard is accessed via Snake Den Ridge Trail that begins near Campsite B-55 at Cosby Campground. The trail begins as an old road and after three little creek crossings you’ll see the small graveyard on your right. Costner (1894-1982) was born in Cosby and grew up on Crying Creek near the Gabes Mountain Trailhead. After her stint as an Army nurse in Pearl Harbor and Guam, she returned to Newport, Tennessee and published several books of poems and essays. For more information on Ella V. Costner, check out her Facebook page!

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The Greenbrier Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin

…feeling great in GREENBRIER!

The Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be found six miles east of Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Highway 321. Also known as Big Greenbrier, this watershed is widely considered the finest example of a cove hardwood forest on planet Earth. The entrance to the cove is a narrow paved road which meanders alongside the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

 

A Driving Tour of Greenbrier

The first mile into Greenbrier has many riverside pull outs for fishing, paddling, and the occasional wedding ceremony. After passing the ranger station the road turns to gravel and narrows, so please be courteous and allow room for other vehicles to maneuver. Past the ranger station the next landmark will be a quiet picnic area on the left next to the river. The picnic grounds have several tables and composting toilets.

Traveling on you will soon find a pair of bridges on the left. The Grapeyard Ridge trail begins on the west side of the bridges. Grapeyard Ridge meanders 7.6 miles west ending at the Cherokee Orchard Motor Nature Trail.

The Old Settler’s trail begins on the east side of the bridges. Old Settlers trail stretches 15.9 miles east to its junction with Maddron Bald trail and Gabes Mountain trail.

Turn left onto the bridge and drive 1.5 miles to the Ramsay Cascade trailhead. Ramsay Cascades is a tough eight mile round trip hike to one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trail is renowned for its old growth forest and giant trees in addition to the awe inspiring waterfall.

Remaining straight at the bridge will bring you to the second picnic area found in Greenbrier. This spot has a covered pavilion, picnic tables, a pure, running spring and composting toilets.

A half mile after the picnic area the road dead ends at the Porters Creek trailhead. Porters Creek trail is 3.7 miles long and is a favorite among wildflower enthusiasts during the spring. Porters Creek trail also provides access to the historic Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin and the Brushy Mountain Trail. Brushy Mountain is 4.7 miles long to its junction with Trillium Gap trail and is considered one of the most challenging ways to access the summit of Mt. Leconte. Continue reading…

Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots

Smoky Mountain fishing is fun for the whole family.

Cast your line in the Smoky Mountains for the catch of a lifetime!

Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots. Smoky Mountain Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies have over two thousand miles of streams and rivers within the park boundary.  If you are ready for the challenge, fishing opportunities abound in the Smokies.

Anglers from around the globe visit the park to test their skills in our pristine waters. If you are a novice or a seasoned pro you will be hollerin’ “Fish On” before you know it.  Folks often ask HeySmokies, “What kind of fish do you have in the Smoky Mountains?” The five most common game fish in the Smokies are Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Rock Bass, and Smallmouth Bass. Each of these beauties are a thrill to catch. The HeySmokies fly rod squad agrees that the most beautiful fish we ever caught is the one on the end of our line right now!

The HeySmokies fly rod squad has trekked across the Smokies from end to end over the years and we know where the fish tend to be biting. For those who are unfamiliar with the park here are a few fishing destinations you will want to explore. If you are after Smallmouth bass and Rock bass a couple of good places to begin would be the Big Pigeon River on eastern edge of the park. The Pigeon is easily accessed in Hartford, TN via Interstate 40. The Waterville road I – 40 exit, five miles south of Hartford near Big Creek, is another spot with easy access. If you are after trout you can’t go wrong in Big Greenbrier five miles east of Gatlinburg. Porters Creek and the middle prong of the Little Pigeon river are popular spots in “Big G.” If you plan to visit the North Carolina side of Smokies make plans to cast a line in Cataloochee near Maggie Valley or Deep Creek near Bryson City. Both places offer solitude and a sense of immersion in the mountains.

Brook Trout is the only species of trout native to the Smoky Mountains. This fish is known as “spec” or “speckled trout” by Smoky Mountain natives and is one of the most elusive and difficult to catch. Many anglers are not aware that spec is not a true trout but a “char.” The historic range of char stretches from Canada to north Georgia. “Brookies” in the Smokies usually have a life span of less than three years and rarely grow larger than 8 – 9 inches.

Brown Trout are the largest game fish species in the national park. Primarily found in the

Trout fishing in the Smokies!

Deciding which stream to fish may be the most difficult thing about angling in the Smokies!

lower elevation streams, they thrive in slow moving water with good cover and lot’s of hiding spots. “Brownies” were brought to the the United States from Europe and compete with other species in the Smokies. They are long lived and it is not uncommon for them to survive up to twelve years. The majority caught in the Smokies are six to twelve inches in length and have been known to become thirty inches long weighing eleven pounds. Can you imagine the feeling of reeling in one of those bad boys?

Rainbow Trout are the most common game fish in the Smokies and are highly prized by anglers. Rainbows are found in almost every stream in the national park and are recognized by their familiar pink-toned stripe on their side. Like Brownies, Rainbows are not native to the Smokies, they were introduced from stock in the Northwestern United States. They were released into our mountain streams by logging companies in the early 1900’s. Most Rainbows reeled in by anglers are six to ten inches in length with an average age of three to five years. It is extremely rare to find rainbow trout over twelve inches in length.

Smallmouth bass and rock bass inhabit the lowest elevation streams and rivers in the Smokies on the borders of the park. They prefer cool deeper pools and shaded areas near the banks of the river. These species are native to the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi river. Smallmouth bass are the largest of the two and are usually six to fourteen inches in length. Their lifespan is five to seven years and a five pounder is considered a trophy fish. Rockbass are smaller in size ranging from four to eight inches in length but occasionally reach up to ten inches. Their typical life span is six to eight years.

Bonus angler tip: Did you know only one fishing license is required to fish Great Smoky Mountains National Park? With roughly half the park in North Carolina and the other in Tennessee a valid license from either state gives you total access to over 500,000 square miles of fishing heaven. As if you needed another reason to come fish with us!