4 routes · Trail Running
Mount Sterling Loop
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
An epic backcountry trail run to an abandoned mountain top fire tower resting at 5,850'.
Trail Running Difficult
- 27 km
- 1.3 km
- 1.3 km
- 4-5 hrs
- Low Point
- 511 m
- High Point
- 1.8 km
The Mount Sterling Loop is one of the best long trail runs you'll find in the Smokies. It showcases beautiful mountain streams, waterfalls, high mountain flora, and awards stunning views from a fire tower on Mount Sterling. Even better, the summit is also home to a lush stand of Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest, an ecosystem typically confined to the northern latitudes of New England.
Locals typically run the loop counterclockwise, which leads to a longer, though steadier, climb to Sterling. You'll begin with a gentle climb up Big Creek Trail, where you will likely get your feet wet after heavy rains or snowmelt. The lower portion of the trail is typically more problematic. Because of such, some runners prefer to reverse the loop so that they don't get their feet wet early on.
The trailhead is located just a few minutes from Interstate 40 and is accessible by nearly any vehicle, including larger RVs or those with trailers. Adjacent to the campground, there is a parking area for day use that has plenty of space. Drinking water and seasonal restrooms are also available nearby.
There is water available along several portions of the route, but should always be treated or filtered first. As with most of the Smokies, dogs are also not allowed on any of these trails.
Due to the high elevation nature of the route, it is best run between spring and fall. If you attempt it during the winter months, know that intermittent snowstorms often blanket the higher elevations — Mount Sterling resting just above 5,800'.
Best time to visit
Guidebooks in this area
17 routes · Hiking · Trail Running
I-40 Itinerary: Rad Trail Runs for Your Next Road Trip