Lovely and easy to reach, Mouse Creek Falls serves as a fine all-ages hiking destination in the eastern reaches of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Some 4.2 miles round-trip, the hike to Mouse Creek Falls along the Big Creek Trail typically takes between two and three hours to complete. The 605 feet of elevation gain are spread out and the riverfront trail bed comes well maintained, so this is quite an easy walk despite the ruggedness of the mountainsides hemming the Big Creek valley.
The Big Creek Trail follows its namesake stream, a tributary of the Pigeon River, along the old logging railway grade of the Crestmont Lumber Company. Its crews hauled out a lot of timber along this corridor before it was transferred to the national park. Back in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps refashioned the route as a hiking trail.
For its first half-mile, the trail hugs the northwest edge of the broad Big Creek valley, the stream itself flowing on the other side. As you head upstream, the slopes close in and you’ll spend the rest of the hike closely hugging rhododendron-lined, trout-cruised Big Creek.
At 1.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach one of the defining landmarks of Big Creek’s course: Midnight Hole. Here six-foot falls drop into a broad and deep plunge pool of exceptional clarity.
Roughly three-quarters of a mile past Midnight Hole, a hitching post clues you in to the side trail leading to a bench that overlooks Mouse Creek Falls. It’s a serene, almost dreamy scene: Here, Mouse Creek, which flows off the high slopes of the Mount Sterling Ridge to the south, tumbles down a two-tiered, 45-foot drop into Big Creek. Interrupted by a midway plunge pool, framed by hemlocks and rhododendrons, Mouse Creek Falls anchors the perfect backcountry picture.
Big Creek Trail continues on gently to Walnut Bottom, a glen formerly occupied by a logging camp. But if Mouse Creek Falls is your destination, you’re free to kick back as long as you want at the magical spot before a blissful downhill mosey back to the Big Creek trailhead.
-The riverside forest floor along the Big Creek Trail comes rife with wildflowers in spring and summer. Consider bringing a wildflower guide to I.D. the blossomy bounty!
-If you want to make this a longer backpacking adventure, consider camping at Walnut Bottom: a pleasant place for a Smoky Mountain overnighter.
This trail, which is approximately 60-75 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, is easy to find via I-40 East. Take I-40 to the Waterville Road Exit #451. Once you cross the Pigeon River, you will proceed approximately two miles to a four-way intersection – continue straight. The road will turn into a gravel road and you will pass a ranger station on your way to a gravel parking area that the road dead-ends into. The trailhead is on the right side immediately before reaching the parking area.
A gentle trail ideal for young and old, novice hikers and experienced ones, the hike to Mouse Creek Falls comes highly recommended. The waterfall itself is a breathtaking payoff, but the whole route along the riffles and cascades of Big Creek exudes tranquility.