Big Creek Trail – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Big Creek Trail, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one our personal favorite trails.  Within a 5.5 mile roundtrip hike, you get to hike through a heavily wooded forest, alongside one of the largest and fastest flowing creeks in the park, visit 2 waterfalls (one a very popular swimming hole), and cross a gorgeous bridge to a calm and crystal clear pool of water.

If you love hiking, make sure Big Creek Trail is one your list!

Big Creek Trail

Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, off I-40
Roundtrip Distance: 10.5 miles roundtrip (most people cut it much shorter at 4.2 – 4.5 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate
Features: Beautiful dense woods, creekside hiking, two waterfalls, swimming hole, and bridges
Directions:  From I-40, take exit 451.  From North Carolina, at the bottom of the ramp, go left.  From Tennessee, go right.   From North Carolina, you’ll follow a short road, then reach the off ramp coming from Tennessee.  Turn left to cross the bridge over the Pigeon River.  From Tennessee, turn right to cross the bridge an follow the road past the power plant until you reach and intersection and stop sign.  Cross over the intersection onto the gravel road.  You’ll a small park entrance sign.  Follow this road all the way up to the parking lot.
Recommended Gear: Good hiking boots or shoesDaypackDayhiker First Aid KitSunscreen, some snacks, plenty of water.   If you want to swim, bring some towels, a bathing suit, and some good water shoes are really helpful.

Big Creek Trail – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Big Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well known for it’s logging history.  The entire area was a very large logging operation, before the park was founded.  In fact, the current location of the big creek campgrounds and parking lot was a log mill.   Although it’s hard to tell these days.

Just before you reach the parking lot, you’ll pass the Big Creek Trailhead on your right.   Park, and walk up.  There are restrooms near the parking lot.  Probably a good idea to use them prior to hitting the trail.

Big Creek Hiking

Big Creek Trail follows an old logging railroad grade through the woods, and along the side of a ridge.  The climb is steady, but not real steep.

For the first part of the trail, you’ll be high above Big Creek, which is too your left.  You’ll still hear it, but it’s feint.  As you continue to hike, you’ll get closer and closer.

As mentioned earlier, the trail runs along the side of a ridge, and as a result, to your right is nothing but steep mountain side and rock, and to your left will be a sheer drop down to the creek.   Watch your step, and if you have small children keep an eye on them.

Midnight Hole

After a while, the trail will get right next to the creek, and it will stay this way for the duration.  At 1.5 miles, you’ll reach Midnight hole.  It will be down a slight incline to your left.  Generally very easy to recognize during the summer, as it will be full of people.   Midnight hole is one of the most popular swimming holes in the area, and very busy during the summer months.

Midnight Hole - Big Creek
Midnight Hole – Big Creek

Mouse Creek Falls

IMG_0235You’ll continue on past Midnight Hole, alongside Big Creek.  There are some great photo opportunities in this area of the creek itself.   After about .5 miles, you’ll reach the overlook area for Mouse Creek Falls.  You be able to tell when you see the horse rails, used to tie up horses.

Mouse Creek Falls is a 45 foot tall waterfall, that spills into Big Creek.  There are some benches here, and it’s a great place to take a break, and view the gorgeous waterfall.  Most people turn around here and head back.  Doing so would make this about a 4 mile round trip hike.

Speaking of horses, Big Creek Trail is not only a hiking trail, but a horse trail as well.  I mention this for two reasons: 1) Horses have the right of way, so move over when and if you see them.  2) The trail has horse manure on it, so watch your step.

The First Bridge


Another .25 miles past Mouse Creek Falls, you’ll cross over the first of two trail bridges.   These are wide iron bridges.  This particular first one crosses over Big Creek.  The railroad grade continues down and to the left, and the trail continues to the right.

The area of Big Creek above this bridge is very rocky, and simply gorgeous.  A small waterfall just below the bridge spills into a crystal clear and very calm pool of water.  This is a popular trout fishing area.

This bridge also marks the half way point to Walnut Bottoms, the location of Backwoods campsite #37, and the end of Big Creek Trail.

Walnut Bottoms

The trail at this point gets a bit more rocky and rough, due to being travelled less.   You’ll hike alongside Big Creek for the next 2.5 miles until your reach a second bridge, and Walnut Bottoms.  Pay attention as you hike, and you’ll notice the remnants of the heavy logging operations that were here prior the park.  You’ll even notice brick in the trail, the remnants of an old cobblestone walkway.

Campsite #37 is just past the bridge.  The trail ends at the campsite, and intersects with Low Gap Trail.  You’ll also pass Swallow Fork Trailhead on your left prior to reaching Walnut Bottoms.

Campsite #37 is a common overnight camping spot for multi-day hikers.  The campsite is by reservation only.  Be on the lookout for Bears as well, as this is a popular spot for them.

To return to the parking area, head back the same way you arrived.

>>> Read more about the Big Creek Area, including more hikes, camping, picnic area, and the history in our Big Creek Guide.

Big Creek Trail Photo Gallery


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