Hike to Mt. Sterling's Fire Tower

Baxter Creek Trailhead - Search Nearby - 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

Distance

12 Miles RT

Elevation Gain

4200 ft Gain

Type

Out-and-Back

Activities

Camping, Backpacking, Hiking

Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Forest
Picnic Area
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife

Nearby Lodging

Cherokee / Great Smokies KOA

Cherokee, North Carolina

Asheville West KOA

Candler, North Carolina

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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Overall rating: 

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.

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