The trail itself is easy enough, but through years of erosion, it has become rutted. It's also generally not the most interesting trail I've been on, but the views from the top are great.
Climbed the tower
The goal for the day was Cataloochee and I only added this on when the Tennessee native I met at the tiny parking area recommended it. I think it took ninety minutes to get to the tower from Sterling Gap. Too much snow and ice on the tower for me to climb it but the trail itself was excellent.
Climbed with my family(wife and two daughters) on a warm Memorial Day weekend. Tough switchbacks on root filled trail, with the surprise of a bear ambling along the trail near the summit after we went to the Fire Tower. Needless to say, a quick climb down!
My first summit, almost 13 years ago now. I remember the hike proper as being pleasant and more or less like any other hike in the Smokies. There's great camping spots to be had at the top, and you should definitely spend a night, if for no other reason than to try to catch sunset and sunrise from the fire tower.
Climbed Mount Sterling with a bunch of teens and my wife. We did a loop and spent the first night near Big Creek and then the second night on top of Sterling. It was beautiful up there. The pines were open underneath giving it a peaceful quiet but not confined feeling. Sunrise and sunset from the tower were awesome.
We did have a good size bear come into camp and seemed fairly comfortable with people being there. Have to realize that when you are in the Smokies and have to camp at a certain spot with other people, not everyone there will be familiar with dealing with bears.
Fun little hike. Steamy August weather. Cooled off up top with the fog & clouds blanketing the mountains all around. The forest was beautiful too, as it always is in the Smokies. And the drive in from I-40 was nice as well.
Great views from the tower. Was pretty cloudy and a storm was rolling in when i was there. I plan I going back when the leaves change.
Climbed Sterling via a 17.2 mile loop - Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to Mt Sterling Ridge Trail - descended Baxter Creek.
This was a great route - with lots of great water/cascades and a pretty easy grade. Too bad the weather didn't cooperate. A pretty rainy day. The clouds opened up enough by the time we made it to Mt. Sterling to get a few good views from the fire tower. The descent down Baxter Creek is brutal.
A very quiet day. We only saw a few hikers on the way up. When we descended we ran into 3 or 4 groups heading up Baxter Creek to camp at Mt. Sterling.
Started at Big Creek and hiked up Big Creek to Swallow Fork Trail. From there up Mount Sterling Ridge to the tower. It's kinda creepy climbing that old thing. The weather was a bit cloudy, but I did manage to get some decent views. Returned to Big Creek via Baxter Creek Trail.
We started at the Cataloochee horse campground (less than 1/4 mile from trail head).
After coming in on a old dirt road into the Park, we found two port-a-potties next to the trail head with a sign to Palmer Creek Trail. Chose campsite 39 for Friday night.
On Saturday we tracked back a bit to follow Little Cataloochee trail to Long Bunk Trail - which was a fun path. A bit of elevation gain, but a good mix of up and down. A few rock walls and cabins along the way - to include a few cemeteries. The hard part came when Long Bunk intersected with Mt. Sterling Trail with about 2 miles to go until campsite 38. There was plenty of water up until that point - so much we joked that it was hard to tell the trail from the river at points. We pushed it through and reached the fire tower around 4:30pm. Cold night on the mountain (about 25 degrees f) but the campsite was large - right next to the tower. A few boy scouts shared the site with us - although I never left the tent once it was up (except to hang the bear bag which sturdy lines were provided).
Back to the Mt Sterling Ridge trail intersection in the morning, and down down down Pretty Hollow Creek trail to campsite 39 again. Tighten up the boots and prepare your toes for this downhill trek along rivers most of the way. After reaching 39 - just 1.6 or so until the Cataloochee trail head - saw quite a few day hikers looking for elk.
About 19.5 miles total
Overall: Tough hike but worth ever step for the views from the Fire Tower atop Mount Sterling.
We took the sterling trail up, but getting to the trailhead was half the battle. We drove over at night making the road difficult to travel by. Then we had to hike through very very thick fog, but thankfully the trail is wide and easy to follow. Camped at the summit and caught the sunrise from the firetower. great views.
Very nice hike from camp 37. Camp 38 near the summit was pretty but the only water source is .4 miles away. Bummer.
Came up Pretty Hollow for the 14 mile roundtrip dayhike. Awesome views. hate the power lines but otherwise very wild area. Found 2 arrowheads on the Sterling ridge.
Came from Camp 37 to Tri-Corner Knob to Laurel Gap and onto Mount Sterling and the firetower. It was a great time but REALLY humid.
Hike to the top where the temp was 20 degrees! A cold day. Had a great chat with a Park Ranger. Awesome hike.
It was a long plod up from Mt. Sterling gap, but the view from the fire tower was really spectacular. This was intended to be a secondary summit to Big Cataloochee; we never made it to that summit, but this summit more than made the whole trip worthwhile.
A solo hike in December, camped near summit in sleet and snow. No view so I need to go back to see what I missed (should be oustanding)
I summited on July 21, 2002 and then again on March 24, 2003.
Both times leaving from Cataloochee and hiking a loop, Pretty Hollow Gap to Mount Sterling Ridge Trail then back to Cataloochee via the Mount Sterling Trail to Long Bunk Trail and then finally the Little Cataloochee Trail.