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Big Creek Trail – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Big Creek Trail, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one our personal favorite trails in the national park.

Within the 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, and visit two separate waterfalls (one a very popular swimming hole).

If you love hiking, make sure Big Creek Trail is one your list!  This is one hiking trail in the Smokies that you cannot miss!

What you need to know about Big Creek Trail

Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, off I-40 in North Carolina

Handicap Accessible: The trail itself is not, however the parking area, and possibly the picnic area may be.

Dog Friendly: No - Dogs are not allowed on trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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: Day Hiking Essentials and if you want to swim, bring some towels, a bathing suit, and water shoes are really helpful.

Our Big Creek Trail Video

We've done a few videos on Big Creek, but here is our favorite of the hike up Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole.   This video will give you full perspective on what to expect on the hike, and how beautiful this area really is.

Hiking Big Creek Trail NC

Big Creek Picnic Area

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 as the forest has grown back.

The area is just simply gorgeous.  The dense forest combined with the green and aquamarine colored waters of Big Creek that flow over the rocks and cascade down into many small pools, make this almost seem unreal.  

Big Creek is simply one of the most beautiful areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Big Creek Trailhead

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

If you visit during the summer, and especially on the weekend, you may find the main small parking area closed.  If so, you can park further back down the entry road in the horse camp area.  Just be sure to not block any horse trailers in. 

There are restrooms here as well, and to the left of them is a trail that will take you through the woods, into the RV camping area, and to the Big Creek trailhead.

Big Creek Parking Area

Hiking Up Big Creek Trail

Big Creek Trail Smoky Mountains 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 to your left.  You'll still hear it, but it's faint.  As you continue to hike, you'll get closer and closer to the creek.

Family hiking at Big Creek

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.

As you hike the trail, you'll see a number of small unofficial trails going down to the creek.   These are fun to explore, and lead to some beautiful areas many don't ever see.  Take the time to explore these, just be careful of course.

Midnight Hole NC

Midnight Hole at Big Creek

After a while, the trail will be creekside, and it will stay this way for the duration.  At 1.5 miles, you'll reach Midnight Hole, one of the most popular swimming holes in the smokies.  

Midnight Hole 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 a great spot to take a break, enjoy the beautiful waterfall and surrounding foliage, and watch the people enjoying the ice cold water on a hot summer day.  It's also a great place to grab a snack.

If you look closely in the water in the pool below the falls, it's full of Trout.  You'll often find anglers fly fishing below the falls and away from the people swimming.

Mouse Creek Falls

Mouse Creek Falls, Big Creek

To Reach Mouse Creek Falls on Big Creek hiking trail, you'll continue on Big Creek Trail 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 you've arrived when you see the horse rails used to tie up horses.  

Did we mention Big Creek Trail is also a horse trail?   No, well it is, so you'll want to watch your step as you're hiking.  Also, trail etiquette says you yield to horses.  So just move over until they go by, and don't startle them.

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 to the Big Creek parking and picnic area.  Doing so at this would make this about a 4 mile round trip hike.

The First Bridge

Big Creek Trail NC - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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 old 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

Big Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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 on Big Creek Trail the same way you arrived.

Tips for Hiking Big Creek Trail Smoky Mountains

We have hiked Big Creek trail to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls more times than we can count.  When our kids were younger, we used to visit Midnight Hole almost every weekend.    As many times as we've done it, we never get tired of it.  It's one of our favorite hiking trails in the smokies.

Along the way, we picked up some insider tips for hiking Big Creek trail:

  1. Plan your hike - Before heading out, research the trail and familiarize yourself with the route, distance, and difficulty level. Check the weather forecast and make sure to bring appropriate gear and clothing.  Our video will really help with this.
  2. Watch your kids closely at all times - Children have died on Big Creek Trail and at Midnight Hole.  Always keep a close eye on your children at all times.  While Big Creek is relatively safe, you are outdoors in the wild.
  3. Get an early start - Start your hike early in the morning to give yourself ample time to complete the trail and enjoy the scenery. It also helps to beat the crowds, especially during peak hiking seasons.  Big Creek is a busy place.
  4. Pack Day Hiking Essential - Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the hike. Pack nutritious snacks and a packed lunch, as there are no food services along the trail. Bring a map, compass, or GPS device for navigation, as well as a first aid kit and a whistle for emergencies.
  5. Wear proper footwear - Choose sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or shoes that provide good ankle support. The trail can be rocky and uneven, so having appropriate footwear will help prevent injuries and provide stability.  Frankly, a good pair of hiking boots will make your hike much more enjoyable.
  6. Follow trail etiquette - Stay on the designated trail to protect the natural environment. Be mindful of other hikers and yield to uphill hikers and to horses. Always Leave no trace by carrying out your trash and not disturbing wildlife or vegetation.
  7. Take breaks and pace yourself - Big Creek Trail offers beautiful scenery and numerous opportunities for photography. Take breaks along the way to rest, enjoy the surroundings, and take pictures. Pace yourself and listen to your body to avoid overexertion.
  8. Be aware of wildlife - The trail passes through a wilderness area, so it's important to be aware of your surroundings. Keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter and do not feed or approach them. Take proper precautions to prevent encounters with bears, such as storing food securely.  When hiking near water, snakes are common.   
  9. Always tell someone where you are going - Before you head out on a Big Creek Trail hike, inform a trusted friend or family member about your plans, including your expected return time. This is a safety precaution in case of any unforeseen circumstances.

We hope these tips help you.  Stay safe and have a wonderful hiking experience!

Big Creek Trail - Common Questions

Big Creek Great Smoky Mountains

Here are answers to some common questions we get about Big Creek Trail NC:

Where is Big Creek NC?

Big Creek is located on the north east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, off of I-40, and right at the NC and TN border.  The area is accessible by a narrow access road leading into Big Creek.  See our directions and map above.

How deep is midnight hole?

Reports vary, but the pool directly below and around the base of the main waterfall flowing into Midnight hole is 15' - 20' deep.   Big Creek gets progressively less deep as it gets closer to shore.

How long is the hike to Midnight Hole NC?

The hike to Midnight Hole from the Big Creek Trailhead is 1.5 miles.

Are dogs allowed on big creek trail?

No, dogs are not allowed on big creek trail.  Dogs in general are not allowed on trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The only exceptions are the Oconaluftee Trail at the Oconaluftee visitor center and the Sugarlands trail at the Sugarlands visitor center.

Can I camp on Big Creek Trail?

Big Creek Trail provides access to a few Back Country Campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  You can also camp in the Big Creek Campground.  But camping on the trail outside of these locations is not allowed.

Can I push a stroller on Big Creek Trail?

While you can, we would not advise it.  The trail is very rocky in some spots, has creek crossings, and is just really rough in spots.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Big Creek Trail

Fall at Midnight Hole in Big Creek

Hiking the Big Creek Trail NC is an unforgettable adventure that immerses you in the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Mountains.

From the pristine aqua blue waters of Big Creek to its lush forests and wildflowers, this trail offers an incredible experience for outdoor enthusiasts. 

By properly preparing, packing essential supplies, and practicing trail etiquette, hikers can have a safe and rewarding adventure on this amazing trail. 

If you decide to hike on Big Creek Trail, please be sure to share your adventure and photos with us in our Facebook Group!

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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