Hike to Mt. Sterling's Fire Tower

North Carolina Baxter Creek Trailhead

Added by Brendon Pierson

Mt. Sterling's Fire Tower is a 12 mile up and back day trip OR make it a 17 mile loop and camp at the summit. Enjoy stunning view from 60ft fire tower atop the 5842ft Mt. Sterling -- arguably the best panoramic view of the Smokies. The best part? The trail head is just a 10 minute drive from I-40.

On your way in, stop at the ranger station parking lot to use the outhouses and grab a map for $1. Once at the Baxter Creek trailhead you have two options: 1. The Out and Back (12.2 miles) 2. The Loop (17 miles)

  1. Out and Back: Start on the Baxter Creek Trail and continue up for 6.1 miles until you reach the fire tower. The trail is very well maintained and you could definitely run on it if you were so inclined, but keep in mind it does rise 4200ft over 6miles. You don't get quite as of good scenery as the loop, but you still see wildlife including plenty of deer and maybe even black bears.

  2. The Loop: Start on the Big Creek Trail and follow it for 5 miles along the creek until you will come to an intersection with the Swallow Fork Trail. Follow the Swallow Fork Trail for 4 miles until it forks left. Take this left fork for 1.4 miles, at which point you will reach the summit and fire tower. There is a campsite at the top, and water 1/4 mile past the summit (well marked with signage).
    To descend continue past the summit and down the Baxter Creek Trail for 6.1 miles. If you have the time I would highly recommend the loop as you pass numerous waterfalls, streams, and scenery. It can also be done in a day if you are mindful of your pace.

Note: Google Maps labels Baxter Creek Trail as "Benton Mackaye Trail." Look for signs for Baxter Creek Trail once you arrive at the parking lot - it is well maintained and clearly marked.

For information on the colorful history of Mt. Sterling check out http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/sterling_baxter_creek.htm

Pack List

  • Hiking gear
  • Rain gear
  • Camera
  • Water
  • Snacks

Additional items If you plan to camp:

  • Tent
  • Warm sleeping bag (you are fairly exposed at the summit)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water purification method
  • Camp stove
  • Food
  • Head lamp
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



12 Miles

Elev. Gain:

4200 Feet



Easy Parking
Picnic Area

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How to Get There

22 days ago

3rd option

Great hike. Just finished this one this weekend! However you also have a 3rd option should you be interested (which we did). You can pass the Swallow Fork Trail, continue your hike to Gunter Fork Trail (4.1 miles), then jump on the Balsam Trail (0.9 miles), and then onto the Mount Sterling Ridgeway (5.3 miles) before you summit. Adds a lot to your hike and can be a bit of a challenge. The view at the summit in the tower is stunning.

22 days ago

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