Overview: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Backpacking: Mt Sterling - Big Creek - Mt Cammerer Loop
This 3-4 day backpacking route in the Northeast Corner of the National Park captures the true multi-faceted essence of the Smokies in one trip. Breathtaking views, lush ecosystems, waterways of all shapes and sizes, historical sites and, of course, the steep ups and downs of this land.
Map: Mt Sterling, Walnut Bottom, Mt Cammerer
Caltopo map available here.
Trail Guide: Sterling - Big Creek - Cammerer Loop
Covering 26-30 miles, this loop starts at the Chestnut Branch Trailhead. The hike begins with a short gravel road walk that leads to the Big Creek / Baxter Creek Trailheads. Here is where the real fun begins with a ~ 4000', ~ 6-mile trek up the Baxter Creek Trail to the top of Mt Sterling. Baxter Creek is widely regarded as one of the most challenging trails on the East Coast. The view (pictured above) from the Fire Tower near Campsite 37 is totally worth it!
Day 2 is a mixed bag of elevation gain, the first half downhill and the latter half climbing back up. The Swallow Fork Trail leads down from Mt Sterling Ridge to the Walnut Bottom area of Big Creek. Campsites abound in Walnut Bottom and it also makes for a perfect spot to grab lunch. After that is the day's climb to link up with the Appalachian Trail on the way to Cosby Knob shelter for Night 2.
Mt Cammerer awaits a couple of miles down the AT on Day 3. There is a lookout tower on top which makes for another prime lunch spot. Those aiming to do a 4-day trip can continue along the AT to Davenport Gap shelter for the night before returning to Chestnut Branch. Those aiming to do a 3-day trip will follow the AT for a bit more before descending down Chestnut Branch Trail to the Chestnut Branch Trailhead.