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 Sugarlands Visitor Center Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

sugarlands-visitor-center-smoky-mountains-heysmokies… feeling great at SUGARLANDS VISITOR CENTER!

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs, and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the center’s main entrance. Here you will find everything you need to experience the park at your own pace.

Also nestled in the beautiful Sugarlands valley is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Headquarters. The area was named for the abundance of Sugar Maples found here.

Getting Therescenic-fall-drive-smoky-mountains-heysmokies

From Gatlinburg – 2 miles on Highway 441 South (Newfound Gap Road).
From Townsend – 27 miles east on Little River Road.
From Cherokee – 29 miles on Highway 441 North (Newfound Gap Road).

The Visitor Center offers:

  • Relief Map – a giant, raised, relief map which reveals all of the park trails and roads in great detail. This map provides a sense of the dramatic changes in terrain a park visitor can experience by foot or car.
  • Information Desk – staffed by park rangers and volunteers who can answer any questions you may have about your visit.
  • Gift Shop – selling souvenirs of all types, including a great selection of books about flora and fauna, Smoky Mountain history, wildlife, pioneer stories, mountain legends, etc. The shop provides quality topographic maps of the area, basic hiking gear, patches, paintings, traditional mountain food hard goods, and much more.
  • Theater – twice every hour is a screening of the introductory Great Smoky Mountain National Park film which provides an excellent overview of all the park has to offer. This film is a family favorite and provides inspiration to all who feel a bond with this remarkable land.
  • Museum –  here you will find many fine examples of the types of animal and plant life you may encounter while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. See how you measure up to some of the park’s largest and smallest inhabitants like the black bear and the mighty hellbender!

 

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John Ownby Cabin on Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Fighting Creek Nature Trail is located behind the Visitor Center along Fighting Creek. This 1.3 mile long walk has a numbered brochure which describes the view along the way. It is a great trek any time of year but be aware it has rolling, often muddy terrain so dress appropriately.

After a visit to Sugarlands Visitor Center you will be ready for your Great Smoky Mountains adventure. Remember there are no places to refuel within the park so be prepared. Complete services are available in Gatlinburg, Cherokee, and Townsend. Average speed limit in the park is 35 miles per hour so allow extra drive time as you explore.

The Oconaluftee Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

… feeling great in OCONALUFTEE!

Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum

 The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the Center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the Center’s main entrance. You will find everything you need to experience the Park at your own pace.

The Visitor Center offers a unique view into the area’s past at the Mountain Farm Museum – a collection of historic log buildings from the late 19th century that were relocated here from all over North Carolina in the 1950’s. 

 Things To Do in Oconaluftee

  • Fishing – The Oconaluftee river 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 138-site campground is located in the valley one mile away in Smokemont 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.
  • Hiking – The easy 1.6 mile Oconaluftee River Trail begins near the entrance to the Museum. It is stroller-accessible and follows its namesake stream. It crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues to the park border with Cherokee.
    The Mingus Creek Trail is the tail-end of the Great Smoky Mountains portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which stretches 6.2 miles from near Newton Bald and runs 3.3 miles down toward Deeplow Gap Trail from the Deep Creek area. From there a 2.9 mile section leads to US 441, just north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.A 20-mile leg of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail connects Oconaluftee with the Appalachian Trail near the summit of Clingmans Dome.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Getting There

From Cherokee  – 2 miles north on Hwy 441.occonoluftee-directions-heysmokies
From Gatlinburg – 30 miles south on Hwy 441.
From Townsend – 23 miles east on Little River road. Turn right on Hwy 441 (Newfound Gap Road) and proceed south 28 miles.

WINTER ROAD STATUS
Park roads may close due to snow and ice, especially at high elevation during winter months. Check road status by following twitter.com/SmokiesRoadsNPS or by calling 865-436-1200 ext. 631.

The Visitor Center Offers

  • Relief Map – A giant, raised relief map which reveals all of the park trails and roads in great detail. This map provides a sense of the dramatic changes in terrain a park visitor can experience by foot or car.
  • Information Desk – Staffed by park rangers and volunteers who can answer any questions you may have about your visit.
  • Gift Shop – Selling souvenirs of all types, including a great selection of books about flora and fauna, Smoky Mountain history, wildlife, pioneer stories, mountain legends, etc. The shop provides quality topographic maps of the area, basic hiking gear, patches, paintings, traditional mountain food hard goods, and much more.
  • Museum – Hear the voices of Smoky Mountain past! Recordings of early mountain residents relating their experiences and artifacts of mountain life are on display.

oconaluftee-elk-river-great-smoky-mountians-heysmokies

 VISITOR CENTER HOURS

Jan-Feb 8:00 am-4:30 pm
Mar 8:00 am-5:00 pm
Apr-May 8:00 am-6:00 pm
June-Aug 8:00 am-7:30 pm
Sept-Oct 8:00 am-6:30 pm
Nov 8:00 am-5:00 pm
Dec 8:00 am-4:30 pm

Explore the Mountain Farm Museum

The house, barn, apple house, spring house, and smokehouse provide an idea of how families worked and lived more than a century ago and depict a typical mountain farm during the pioneer days in Appalachia. The Chestnut log construction of the Davis House, relocated from near Bryson City, is a nostalgic nod to the giant Chestnut trees which once blanketed much of the Smokies prior to a blight that decimated the trees during the 1930s and early 40s. Area visitors gain an insight into historic agricultural practices through the gardens that are planted in spring and summer. A large stand of cane is harvested each fall and used in a portable “cane grinder” to manufacture cane syrup in several locations within the park. A barn, located at the site, is more than 50-feet wide and 60-feet long. A modern 2,500 sq. ft. home would fit in the barn’s loft. Demonstrations of farm life and ranger-led programs are conducted seasonally. An exciting recent addition to Oconaluftee is the appearance of several large Elk that frequent the broad grassy meadow.

A museum, located next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, was built in 1947 by the civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a ranger station and magistrate’s courtroom. The stone and log cabin was designated as a “temporary” visitor center in 1947 but maintained that title until a new “green design” 1,700 square foot center, the first new visitor service facility constructed in the park since the early 1960s, and also the first designed explicitly as a full-service visitor center, was dedicated in 2011. The Great Smoky Mountains Association provided three million dollars for the facility and Friends of the Smokies donated more than half a million more to provide for inside exhibits which depict the history of life in these mountains from native Americans and early European settlement through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the development of the national park. This is also the site of the Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstore and shop. Public restrooms, vending machines, and backcountry permits are available.

History

The Oconaluftee area parallels the Oconaluftee River basin which gradually broadens on a southward journey from Smokemont toward the southern tip of the Quallah which comprises the reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. According to the journals of John Bartram, written in 1775, the term Oconaluftee comes from the Cherokee village named Egwanulti, which means “by the river.” The Cherokee considered the waters of the Oconaluftee sacred and legend has it that the part of the river called Ya’nu-u’nata wasti’yi translated into “where the bears wash,” refers to waters that legend says would heal hunting wounds sustained by the bears. While the Cherokee roamed throughout the Smokies, this is the only known permanent Cherokee settlement within the park boundary. It is thought the village was most likely destroyed in 1776 during the American Revolution.

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Mingus Mill

Mingus Mill

A half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is historic Mingus Mill. Constructed in 1886, the mill, still located on its original site, relies on a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power the mill. An onsite miller demonstrates the process of grinding corn into cornmeal. Cornmeal and other meal-related items are available for purchase at the mill which is open from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily from mid-March through mid-November and also on Thanksgiving weekend.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center Green Facts

  • Exterior walls are cement fiberboard that is impervious to rot and insect damage.
  • Roof shingles, composed of recycled post-industrial rubber and designed to look like slate, have a 50-year life-span.
  • A geothermal heating and cooling system circulates water underground to reach the earth’s constant temperature of 55 degrees then returns the water to heat and cool the center.
  • Lighting is designed to vary with the amount of natural light entering the building. Sun sensors automatically dim the lights on sunny days. Solar tube skylights and clerestory windows also reduce the need for additional lighting.
  • Low flow restroom plumbing fixtures rely on rain water runoff from the roof which is collected and stored in cisterns.
  • The center also uses recycled materials such as rubber flooring and recycled carpets along with some American chestnut wood salvaged from old barns.
  • Twenty percent of the materials used in construction of the center were manufactured or harvested within 500 miles, thus also reducing the use of fossil fuels for shipping.

The Tremont Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

… feeling great in TREMONT!

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The Tremont ranger district is found in the northwest section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This former logging community is now home to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont which has a small visitor center and bookstore.

A self-guided Auto Tour, describing the amazing logging history of Tremont, is available. The tour is on a gravel road (closed in winter) for three miles beyond the Institute. A tour booklet is available from a box on the roadside.

Getting There

From Townsend – 2 miles via Laurel Creek Road.
From Cades Cove – 7 miles via Laurel Creek Road.
From Sugarlands Visitor Center – 17.5 miles via  Little River Road to Laurel Creek Road at the Townsend “Y”.

Fishing in Tremont

Middle Prong 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.

Hiking in Tremont

Lumber Ridge Trail – Climbs out of the drainage at Tremont Institute heading east 4 miles to its junction with Meigs Creek trail.
Lynn Camp Prong Trail – Begins where Tremont road dead ends three miles south of Tremont Institute. Lynn Camp Prong is a lovely walk any time of year with many fine views of waterfalls and cascades. From the trailhead walk south 1.3 miles to Middle Prong Trail or continue on to Lynn Camps terminus at Miry Ridge 3.7 miles from the parking area.
West Prong Trail – Beginning on the west side of the Middle Prong from Tremont Institute, West Prong strikes a path west 2.7 miles to its junction with Bote Mountain Trail.

Horses in Tremont

Lynn Camp Prong trail has ample parking for horse trailers three miles upstream from Tremont Institute. This trail is a former logging railroad bed wide enough for two horses to walk abreast. Lynn Camp Prong is a lovely ride any time of year with many fine views of waterfalls and cascades. From the trailhead ride south 1.3 miles to Middle Prong trail or continue on to Lynn Camp Prongs terminus at Miry Ridge 3.7 miles from the parking area.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremontgreat-smoky-mountains-institute-tremont-heysmokies

This non-profit organization is the only residential education center in the National Park. Their partnership with the park allows them to work with park rangers and scientists to develop and deliver educational experiences like no other. The Smokies provide an awe-inspiring classroom through all four seasons for everyone ages 5 to 95. With a variety of excellent programs for schools, colleges and universities, the Institute also hosts  adult and family workshops, teacher workshops, summer youth camps, and citizen science programs. The Institute at Tremont programs  are a life changing experience for anyone, most especially a young person. For more information on programs and to register,  visit gsmit.org. Financial aid is available.

Tremont History

tremont-logging-heysmokiesThe Tremont area was once a thriving community for generations of mountain pioneers. In 1901 the Little River Logging Company began buying land and a clear cutting frenzy began. For the next three decades they sawed, skidded, and hauled away one of the greatest old-growth, deciduous forests on Earth. Tremont was the last area of the National Park to be logged and almost two thirds of the trees were removed before the advent of the Park.

 

 

 

Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville

ijams-nature-center-heysmokiesVisit Ijams Nature Center and find out why people love it so much! Ijams is a wild place filled with rocks, rivers, trees, trails, owls and salamanders. Visitors of all ages and ability can hike, bike, paddle, stroll, learn or simply enjoy the day. Ijams is a sanctuary for all visitors to learn and connect with the natural world and be made better by that connection – a place where living with the earth and caring for the earth become one and the same.

Ijams Nature Center is a member and visitor-supported nonprofit organization. Your generous support is needed to continue the ongoing legacy for generations to come.

Where to find Ijams Nature Centerironweed-butterfly-urban -wilderness-knoxville-heysmokies

2915 Island Home Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37920

Approximately three miles from downtown Knoxville. Please call 865-577-4717 if you need special assistance with directions.

  • From Downtown Knoxville via Gay Street – Take the Gay Street bridge south and turn left onto Sevier Avenue. Follow Sevier Avenue; after passing through two traffic lights turn left onto Island Home Avenue. Follow Island Home Avenue, which turns right by the entrance to Island Home Park. Follow green directional signs to Ijams, approximately 1.5 miles on your left.
  • From I-40 West –  
 Take James White Parkway Exit 388A. 
Continue on in two left lanes down James White Parkway
, cross over the Tennessee River and take the Sevier Ave/Hillwood Dr. exit. 
 Turn left onto Sevier Ave. (turns into Hillwood Drive)
. Turn right onto Island Home Ave. at bottom of hill. 
Ijams is approximately 1 mile on the left.
  • From I-40 East –  Take James White Parkway Exit 388A
. Merge onto James White Parkway, cross over the Tennessee River and take the Sevier Ave/Hillwood Dr. exit. 
Turn left onto Sevier Ave. (turns into Hillwood Drive). Turn right onto Island Home Ave. at bottom of hill.
  Ijams is approximately 1 mile on the left.

Hours

THE GROUNDS AND TRAILS ARE OPEN EVERY DAY FROM 8:00 AM UNTIL DUSK.
The Visitor Center, including exhibits, gift shop, offices and restrooms is open during the following times:
Monday – Saturday: 9 am to 5 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 5 pm
Admission: Free. However, they gladly accept and are grateful for cash donations, especially in U.S. currency. Seriously though, Ijams is a nonprofit organization, supported in part by the City of Knoxville, grants, program fees and the generosity of its members and visitors. If you enjoy your visit please support them.

Ijams is Dog Friendly!

You’ll find a Pet Welcome Station near the Visitor Center with leash holders and a doggy water fountain. For everyone’s enjoyment they ask that pets keep their owners leashed at all times.dog-playing-heysmokies

Please Pick Up After Your Pooch! Poop bag stations can be found near the Visitor Center and pet waste bags are for sale in the gift shop.

Hiking

Ijams is a 300-acre urban greenspace featuring over 12 miles of natural surface trails plus a stretch of the Will Skelton Greenway. All of the trails are hiker friendly, although 9+ miles incorporating Mead’s Quarry and the Ross Marble Natural Area serve both hikers and mountain bikers.

When you visit, pick up a trail map at the Visitor Center (only $1) and experience Ijams’ beautiful landscape featuring trails, woodlands, meadows, ponds, and an extensive boardwalk along the Tennessee River bank.

Ijams is also part of South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. This urban greenspace incorporates 1,000-forested acres along downtown’s south waterfront. It creates an exceptional recreation and historic corridor inviting residents and visitors to experience the special character-defining assets of our city. With over 40 miles of multi-use trails, 10 parks, four civil war sites, incredible views, and unparalleled natural features, this unique area provides a premiere outdoor experience. Check out the links below for detailed maps of sections of the Urban Wilderness.

Biking

Explore the expansive multi-use trails at the Ross Marble Natural Area, Mead’s Quarry and Will Skelton Greenway. Ijams has teamed up with the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club to create 9 miles of beginner-intermediate bike trails weaving through rugged terrain, undisturbed woodlands, and along the former quarry gorge. Explore the Ross Marble Quarry loop with unforgettable views from the rock bridge and below through the “keyhole”.

Urban Wilderness

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Experience Mead’s Quarry Lake by canoe or paddle board!

Close to downtown, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness presents a unique urban experience for hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners! Designed and championed by Legacy Parks Foundation, phase 1 of the Urban Wilderness project is the South Loop, 35 miles of natural surface trails connecting five parks and natural areas along with public and private lands creating an unparalleled outdoor venue! The South Loop connects Ijams, Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, William Hastie Natural Area and Marie Myers Park with trailheads and parking along the route. The main trail along the 11.5 mile loop features easy to moderate trails for all users. An additional 24 miles of secondary trails accommodates users from beginner to advanced on dozens of trails of varying terrain. Whether on foot or on a bike, plan on experiencing the splendors of the trail today!

For more information visit Ijams Nature Center.