Hiking Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling in the Smokies

September 27, 2023

Everyone knows about the Mt. Cammerer fire tower, but did you know there is another fire tower at the top of Mt. Sterling? If you are looking for a challenging day hike with a forest of old-growth trees and beautiful panoramic views, then you should check out this Smoky Mountain hike! Here is everything you need to know about hiking Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling:

Round Trip Length 12.4 Miles
Elevation Gain 4,120 Feet
Trail Highlights panoramic views & old-growth forest


baxter creek trail

The trailhead for the Baxter Creek Trail is located near Big Creek Campground. This campground is tent-camping only and is a great spot for overnight backpackers. To get there, take the exit on US-40 for Waterville Road, and the campground and picnic area are about 3 miles from the highway. Baxter Creek Trail is 6.2 miles out and back and is considered strenuous in difficulty due to its steep incline and sometimes slippery trail. 

Trail Description

You will begin the hike to Mt. Sterling by crossing a small footbridge at the beginning of the trailhead, which spans Big Creek. For the next half-mile or so, you will follow the creek before beginning a steep ascent. The first portion of the hike leads you through a gorgeous old-growth forest, which is especially stunning in the fall months. The deciduous trees become fewer in number as you climb higher, replaced by large balsam, fir, and spruce trees. You will find patches of dense moss, large rock formations, and lots of Appalachian flora to admire before reaching the spectacular summit of Mt. Sterling, making the Baxter Creek Trail one of the most beautiful hikes in the Smoky Mountains

At the top, you will see the Mt. Sterling fire tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. Unlike the Mt. Cammerer fire tower, this 60-foot structure does not have railings, but if you are willing to climb the 5 flights of steps, the views are well worth the effort. You may be able to see Mt. LeConte, the Cataloochee Valley, Mt. Guyout, Luftee Knob, and more impressive peaks in the Smokies. 

Insider Tips

mt. sterling fire towerHere are a few other things to keep in mind when hiking Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling:

  • Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this hike, as it’s likely to take you the majority of the day to complete. 
  • Hiking poles are recommended in addition to proper footwear, especially on the way back down. 
  • Only a short way into the hike is an unmarked side trail that leads you to a stone chimney at the bank of the creek, all that’s left of an old mountain lodge. 

We recommend hiking Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling for anyone looking to expand their hiking experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a look at some of the best hikes for Smoky Mountain fall colors for additional trails to explore with stunning views!