Grab your benadryl and best pollen remedies because now is the time to hike! The first hints of summer thunderstorms are rolling through our Smoky Mountains with rain swollen rivers and budding wild flowers, making it the perfect time to seek out waterfalls and take advantage of the Spring weather. Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls is an easy 4 mile out-and-back hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, only 40 minutes from Maggie Valley/Waynesville.
Hike Highlights: plenty of wildflowers in early spring, swimming hole, waterfall, river, and easy hiking trail
From the parking lot you may want to walk down by the river before beginning your hike. I was greeted with a lot of friendly yellow and blue swallowtail butterflies, admittedly enjoying horse poop, but still lovely to see. A narrow wooden bridge down by the picnic area takes you to Baxter Creek Trail which you can explore before heading back up the road from the parking lot to the Big Creek Trailhead.
Once you begin on Big Creek Trail make sure to keep your eyes low to spot wildflowers. This trail is well traveled with a slight inclination and a few rocky sections. In some spots you will get a great aerial view of the river down below.
Yellow and Blue Swallowtail butterflies
For those who use Google Maps for everything, just plug in: Big Creek Trail, Cataloochee, NC 37821
For those who like to keep it oldschool: From North Carolina take I-40 West to the boarder of Tennessee and get off at the first exit 451, Waterville Rd. Left at the end of the exit ramp taking you under I-40. Left at the stop sign the take the first left. Continue right on Waterville Rd. River will be on your left. Continue straight at stop sign entering Great Smoky Mountain National Park on Big Creek Rd. * The first parking lot on the right has maps of the GSMNP for $1 if you would like to snag one before continuing all the way to the end of Big Creek Rd. * Road ends in a parking lot and you have arrived!
The trailhead for Big Creek Trail is actually back up the road a little from the parking lot. This trail will take you to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls.
Fiddlehead Fern (left) | Yellow Trilliums (center) | Fire Pink (right)
You will come across some intriguing “curly cue” plants in the beginning, known as Fiddlehead Ferns, which are apparently edible once you fry them up in some butter and seasoning. I don’t recommend munching on these as they may have been in contact with less than savory horse droppings.
Yellow Trilliums started to pop up further along the trail with their speckled silver and green leaves. These yellow blooms stick straight up from their trio of leaves. They have the faint smell of lemon if you want to get up close and personal to them. Make sure to look off the left side of the trail, I found more groupings of them out view from the trail.
The least prominent on the trail and yet the most boldly colored are the Fire Pink flowers. These, Yellow Ragworts, and Purple Phacelia tuck themselves into the rock faces along the right side of the trail as you head towards Midnight Hole and are a delight to see in addition to the trickle of water that flows off the jagged edges of the rocks.
Sleepy looking White Nodding Trilliums are spread out all along the trail. Keep an eye out for the white petals “nodding” below their trio of leaves.
There are several side trails on the left that take you down to the river if you want to explore. Personally I spent several hours on this short hike just looking for flowers and checking out different parts of the river. A well traveled side trail about 3/4 of a mile in takes you to a decent swimming hole but this is not Midnight Hole. .8 miles up the trail is a fallen tree to the left. If you are daring you can walk across this to get to a wider section of the river riddled with boulders and loud rushing water that looks sky blue.
At 1.5 miles begin looking for a small white circle painted on a tree to the right of the trail. This is the only mark that you are at Midnight Hole. Just look to your left and you will see a large green pool. Here the river is squeezed between two massive boulders to make a 6 foot waterfall with a deep pool beneath it. Many come to jump from the boulders in the warmer months however I stuck my foot in in mid April and my veins felt like they’d been stuck with needles. Maybe I’m a baby. Or maybe I’m the only sane person. But I didn’t jump in on that day, that’s for sure. The crystal clear water and variety of smooth stones gave me plenty of enjoyment on their own.
Mouse Creek Falls
Continuing up the trail there is a wide path to the left that takes you to the river. These less than spectacular falls are not Mouse Creek Falls so do not be disheartened! 2 miles into the trail you will have reached Mouse Creek Falls. The only indication will be a horse hitching post on the left. Follow the path past the hitching post which leads to the falls. Mouse creek empties into Big Creek here. There are plenty of large boulders to hop around on so enjoy exploring the surrounding area.
Wanting just one more swimming hole? You can continue another .25 miles up the trail to a bridge across Big Creek. If you cross the bridge and head down to the bank on the left you’ll be granted access to another great swimming hole.
At this point I turned around and headed back the way I came. With no exploratory stops and at a leisurely pace it only took about 40 minutes to arrive back at the trailhead.
The trail does continue on if you’d like to enjoy a longer hike, but you could easily spend a half or 3/4 day lounging by the river and seeking out wildflowers. There are even more wildflowers along this trail than I’ve listed!
Being just 40 minutes from Waynesville I headed to town after my hike to celebrate NC Beer Week by grabbing a bite to eat and a brew at Boojum Taproom who just opened their outdoor deck. You can find many local restaurants and breweries to enjoy or stop by our Visitor Center and we’ll suggest some great ones.
**If you decide to enjoy this hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please leave your dog at home, they are not allowed on the trails.