Cataloochee Trails

Top Trails: Mt. Sterling Area

Trail Descriptions

Little Cataloochee Trail
This moderate lowland trail gains only 900 feet in over 5 miles. The trailheads are at Palmer Creek, about 1 mile from the end of the paved section of Cataloochee Road at the Cataloochee Horse Camp, and at a signed gate along the gravel Cataloochee-Big Creek Road.

The trail follows old roads with only one notable climb over the small ridge that separates the two Cataloochees. There are plenty of water sources and several old home sites where only rock foundations or chimneys remain. A restored church in Little Cataloochee has an interesting cemetery on the ridge slope below. This church is still used for occasional services and family reunions.

Long Bunk Trail
This relatively strenuous lowland trail climbs 900 feet in nearly 3.7 miles between Little Cataloochee and Mt. Sterling Gap Trail. The trail winds around and over minor low ridges, travels through a couple of small, narrow valleys, and passes by several old farm sites. There is an especially beautiful valley and farm site about 1 mile from the northern end of the trail. This shady trail makes a very pleasant hike on a hot summer afternoon because cool air flows down from the high slopes above.

Mount Sterling Gap Trail
This low ridge trail begins at Mt. Sterling Gap on Cataloochee-Big Creek Road. It is rated extremely strenuous because of a 2,000-foot climb in 2.3 miles along an old jeep trail to a ridge .5 miles below the Mt. Sterling Firetower. This firetower is one of three remaining in the Park.

There are several excellent lookouts from the trail prior to reaching the main ridge, but the view from the tower is unequalled in the Park. The view includes the Pigeon River Gorge (below), the Unaka Mountains, the main ridge of the Smokies, the Black Mountains (east), and the end of the Southern Appalachians.

Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail
This moderate high ridge trail descends 900 hundred feet over 6 miles. The descent is steady from the Mt. Sterling Firetower to Pretty Hollow Gap. The trail climbs steeply out of the gap and follows the relatively level ridge to Laurel Gap along Big Cataloochee Mountain. Note: The campsite near here (Mt. Sterling Campsite #38) is heavily used and there always seems to be a resident bear nearby. The campsite has been recently moved away from the firetower and closer to the water source. If you climb Baxter Creek Trail from Big Creek to Mt. Sterling, the side trail to the water source is about .25 miles from the summit.

Pretty Hollow Gap Trail
This strenuous creek headwater trail is 5 miles long and rises 2,300 feet, connecting Cataloochee Valley and Mt. Sterling Ridge. The lower end of the trail follows the beautiful Pretty Hollow Creek, which is easily viewed from the old roadway. You will have to cross the stream several times and there are no bridges at two of the crossings.

There is a magnificent stand of huge hemlock at the last crossing (a log bridge), about 3 miles from the trailhead on Cataloochee Road. I am told there is a fantastic section of virgin forest up Cook's Creek, but the only trail is a rough fisherman's path.

After that last stream crossing, the trail becomes very muddy. There are several 100-yard sections of deep mud that must be conquered before reaching the gap.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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