Big Creek Area
Taking Exit 451 off of Interstate 40, you come into Waterville, North Carolina. Going into the park, there is a Ranger station with a campground further up the road. This is the Big Creek Area.
The 72-mile Appalachian Trail that winds through the whole Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes out of the park at Davenport Gap. The Mount Sterling Road runs by it. From here, the Appalachian Trail leaves the park and crosses under Interstate 40 at Exit 451, near Waterville, North Carolina.
This 2.1-mile trail coming off the Appalachian Trail leads right into the Ranger Station. This is a good Appalachian Trail access trail for section-hikers to use. Great parking is available at the trailhead.
The Big Creek Trail is 5.8 miles in length. Starting from the campground, it follows Big Creek up to the junction of Campsites #36 and #37 and all the other trails in the area, besides the Chestnut Branch Trail. At 1.4 miles, the trail comes to Midnight Hole, a deep pool in the creek usually used to swim in. Just above that is a 6-foot waterfall. At 2.1 miles, the trail comes by a bench which faces the 45-foot-tall Mouse Creek Falls. The view of the waterfalls makes this a popular hiking trail, meaning it may be highly populated.
Accessing this trail by Campsite #37 at the end of the Big Creek Trail, this 2.5-mile trail leads to the Appalachian Trail, where it continues another 2.5 miles to the Cosby Campground area.
Accessing this trail by the Campsite #36/37 junction at the end of the Big Creek Trail, Camel Gap Trail goes 4.1 miles up to the Appalachian Trail, south of Cosby Knob Shelter.
After hiking 5.1 miles of the Big Creek Trail and taking one mile of the Camel Gap trail, the Gunter Fork Trail breaks off to the left. The Gunter Fork Trail is 4.1 miles long, taking you to the Balsam Mountain Trail. This trail is not a popular trail to hike just for fun. Its main use is to help people get off the longer Appalachian Trail or Benton MacKaye Trail.
This 5.8-mile trail basically links the Appalachian Trail at Tri Corner Knob to the Benton MacKaye Trail at Mount Sterling, two of the longest trails in the park used by multi-day hiking enthusiasts. The Gunter Fork Trail meets Balsam Mountain Trail 0.9 miles from the Benton MacKaye end. For information on the southern part of the trail, see Balsam Mountain Trail (South) in the Cataloochee Area section.
After hiking 5.1 miles of the Big Creek Trail, the Swallow Fork Trail is the first trail to branch off to the left. Going 4 miles, the trail leads to the Benton MacKaye Trail. This trail is usually used by those coming off the Benton MacKaye Trail to access the Big Creek Area.
This 93.7-mile trail section winds through the Smokies and has its ending point at Big Creek Campground, via the Baxter Creek Trail. Day hikers sometimes take this trail to Campsite #38. The trail can also serve as the northern terminus for the Benton MacKaye Trail, which has its southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia.
View the main Smoky Mountain Trails here