10 May Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls
We’re fortunate to live just a couple hours drive from the Great Smoky Mountains, home to the most-visited national park in America. Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s more than 11 million visitors in 2016 almost doubles the second most visited park – the Grand Canyon, with 5.9 million visitors.
The park’s higher elevations get 85 inches of rain a year – more than anywhere in the continental United States except the Pacific Northwest. The moisture, temperature and varied altitude create an amazing collection of plants and animals. More than 12,000 species, from bears to microorganisms, have been documented in the Smokies, and more are still being discovered. Check out our infographic below for more fun facts.
Flowers and falls on Big Creek Trail
On a recent April weekday, we struck out on Big Creek Trail to view the first flowers of the season and visit Mouse Creek Falls. The trail is right off I-40 near the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Despite sharing the route with a number of hikers, including families on spring break, there is plenty of room to spread out so the trail never felt crowded.
The trail begins with a climb, but fear not, this is the only hill you have to do all day. After a half mile, the trail follows Big Creek (think small river because it is wide and carries a good volume of water) along an old railroad grade used to haul lumber out of the region in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
Great place for photographers
Big Creek is known for its scenery. If you’re a photographer, plan on a slow pace, as you could spend several hours capturing classic Smoky Mountain stream shots.
We made a contest of who could spot the most variety of flowers. My travel companions and hikers we encountered rattled of names like trillium, lady’s slipper orchids, columbine, jack-in-the-pulpit, violets and more. This was the first hike ever where I actually got intrigued about looking for the next new flower variety rather than just plodding along and taking in the big sights.
I researched flowers in the Smokies after the hike, and was amazed to learn all of the aforementioned are ephemerals – plants that emerge February to April, flower, and die by May or June.
At 1.4 miles, the trail passes Midnight Hole, a deep river pool below a small waterfall. During the summer this spot is often packed with swimmers and thrill-seekers that leap off large boulders into the deep water.
At 2.1 miles you encounter Mouse Creek Falls. At 45 feet high, the falls, and their setting, are lovely. Several small streams meet at the top of the falls and tumble their way down to join Big Creek.
The trail continues if you want more miles, but many backtrack at this point for a round trip journey just over 4 miles.
This is a great trail I would hike again. It’s also great for people who want to experience hiking but are not seasoned trekkers. The trail is smooth and the climb is gradual, so hikers of any physical condition can enjoy it. Pets are prohibited. Horses are not, so be courteous if you encounter riders along the trail.