The view from Mount Sterling (Kayla Carter/Johnson City Press)
Wandering not too far from where the Appalachian Trail crosses Interstate 40, two footpaths to the top of Mount Sterling can reward hikers with a 360-degree view of North Carolina and Tennessee peaks.
A weather-beaten fire tower sits atop the mountain and a back country campsite (No. 38) is available below the tower for a few groups to stay overnight.
The fire tower, which is 60 feet tall, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935.
About halfway up Baxter Creek Trail beginning in the Big Creek campground, hikers can start to compare an increase in elevation to other mountains that become more visible as the trail follows a ridge.
Painted, yellow and snow trillium can be found along the 6.2-mile trail to the top of Mount Sterling, which is an increase of about 4,000 feet in elevation.
The uphill climb is tough, but the panoramic views from the top are breathtaking.
A large tree had fallen recently on the trail about halfway up, and other hikers redirected the trail through the tree’s root system. Many other trees are lying along the trail currently, but can easily be maneuvered around.
Photos from inside the fire tower were taken at sunset Wednesday and midday Thursday.
If hikers chose to take a 3-mile trail called Mount Sterling Trail to the top, they will gain around 2,000 feet in elevation.
It takes roughly two hours to drive from Johnson City to Mount Sterling, N.C., which is about 82 miles away.
From Johnson City, take 11E to Greeneville, then take US 321 to Newport. Once in Newport, take I-40 toward Asheville, N.C., until reaching the Waterville Road Exit (No. 451).
Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River onto Waterville Road and follow the road until an intersection is reached.
From the intersection, there are two ways to begin the hike to the Mount Sterling fire tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hikers may chose to go straight onto Big Creek Park Road to park at the Big Creek campground or turn left to drive to the shorter 3-mile trail beside Mount Sterling Gap off Mount Sterling Road/Old Cataloochee Turnpike.