A peaceful place in the Smokies just 5 minutes off the Interstate
Each day thousands of cars rush through the Pigeon River Gorge and past the Waterville Road exit at the Tennessee/North Carolina State Line. However, most people probably don’t realize the natural wonders lying just a couple of miles away inside the Big Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Just past the entrance sign, the beauty of this part of the Great Smoky Mountains quickly catches your attention. Alongside the road a cascading creek works its wonders as it passes through the forest. It’s worth a stop at the trailhead parking lot to get a closer look and soak it all in, but there is much more to see further up the road.
Along the drive, the deep colors of the forest surround you and you find yourself a world away from the traffic along the interstate. Near the end of the road, park your car in the lot at the picnic area and get out and take a walk. Just a short distance down from the parking lot a steel bridge at the head of the Baxter Creek Trail takes you across Big Creek. As you walk across the bridge stop in the middle and take a look both upstream and downstream. The fresh and crisp water rushes from the top of the Smoky Mountains pouring over hundreds of rocks along the way. The colors, the fresh mountain air and the sound of the mountain stream create a truly Smoky Mountain Experience.
On the other side of the bridge, there is a path that takes you down to Big Creek and basically under the bridge. The crystal clear water reveals a myriad of small, smooth stones lining the creek bed. Rising above the creek bed are boulders several feet high where water looks for even the smallest space to squeeze through. For me, I could have just sat beside the creek for hours soaking in the calming influence of Big Creek, but unfortunately, I just had a short time to visit.
Each time I’ve visited Big Creek there were very few people there, something hard to experience in other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My guess is this part of the park isn’t crowded most of the time, but a recent post on social media showed me a different view. Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls are both accessed via the Big Creek Trail. Apparently it’s quite popular on the weekends in the summer, so I guess even this part of the Smokies can draw big crowds too.
There aren’t signs on the interstate pointing you to Big Creek, but it’s easy to find and it’s worth the short drive to get there. Just get off exit #451 then go across the Pigeon River and stay on the paved road. When you get to the old Walter’s Dam Powerhouse veer right until you get to a crossroads. Once there keep going straight. (Taking a right takes you to Cosby and going left takes you to the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
*The Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between Gatlinburg and Cosby is another place to get a great natural experience without the crowds.