The Big Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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
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.
Horse 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.
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
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.