I had long heard that Mount Sterling offered one of the finest views of the northeastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies is such a vast and varied park that I managed not to climb Sterling over the past 30 years. At last, I made the trek to the summit. While the highest parts of the peak are clothed in fir trees which allow no long-distance views, an old fire tower remains there. It is from the stairs of this fire tower that, indeed, one can have what has to be one of the finest grandstands in the Great Smokies. The climber will be rewarded (on a relatively clear day, of course) with the vast wilderness that makes up the eastern half of the GSMNP.
Trail to summit.
Returning to the parking area.
I used the Mount Sterling Trail which has a trailhead off of Cove Creek Road. To get to Cove Creek Road, take I-40 West to the NC176 exit. Take an almost immediate right onto Cove Creek Road. Once inside the park, travel for about six miles to Mount Sterling Gap where the trailhead is well marked.
There are also other routes to the summit. Principally from trailheads located in the Cataloochee Ranger District and from the Big Creek Ranger District. Other routes are much longer and gain more elevation.
A really nice map of the trail system in the GSMNP can be seen here.
Camping area on summit.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains unique (as far as I know) in the national park service in that there are no fees. It costs nothing to enter the park and all back country camping is free. Permits to use back country campsites are required. These can be obtained by calling the park service reservation line, or by visiting one of the ranger stations or visitors centers in the park.
When To Climb
Mount Sterling has a back country campsite on its summit. No fees, but permits are required. This is campsite #38 and is a combination hiker/horse camp. So be prepared to deal with gnats if horses are about, and with the generally horrible trail conditions created by horses.
Check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website for up to date information on weather conditions inside the park. Also for road and trail closures, and for campsite closings due to bear problems.
A NOAA site for Smoky Mountains snow cover can be found here.
Information on road and trail closures can be seen here.