TO THE TRAILHEAD: Take I-40 to exit 451, which is the Watertown exit. If you are staying in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, you can also get there by taking Hwy. 321 past Cosby to get there. From here drive to the ranger station at Big Creek and keep going to the parking area which is at the end of the road. The trailhead is on the right side of the road.
THE HIKE: The Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls is a moderate, 4 mile roundtrip hike that takes you to one of the more secluded places in the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike is a moderate, but it is really on the easy side of the moderates. Given that the trail gains less than 600 feet of elevation in two miles, the climbs that you do have on this one are not particularly difficult.
One of the great things about this hike is that since it is fairly easy, you really get a chance to take in your surroundings and enjoy the outdoors instead of focusing on your legs or heavy breathing. This hike also parallels Big Creek most of the way, so you will almost always be in the sight or sound of rushing water. This makes for not only a really enjoyable hike, but great places along the way to get some fantastic pictures.
For most of this hike, the forrest around you is very dense, and the canopy provides some relief from the harsh rays of the sun, especially during the peak of the summer. Given that shade, snow and ice stick around here for awhile during the winter, but the trail is not steep or tough, so it is not much of an impediment even during heavy precipitation. Along the way, there are a couple of rock hops over water, but nothing heavy that you need to worry about. You should finish this one with dry boots.
At 1.5 miles in, you will reach the popular Midnight Hole, which is an area with a very small, 6 foot waterfall surrounded by massive boulders all around. Below is a huge pool of water that is great for cooling off your feet and legs or even going for a swim. The water is still pretty cold though, even in the summer, but it can be really refreshing during hot parts of the year. You certainly can jump in for a swim, but like Abrams Falls, you need to exercise caution. If you climb around the massive boulders all around, be sure to use caution. The park service is always quick to point our that people are hurt every year out here simply from being careless and a few even die. That simply shouldn’t happen here. Just use your common sense and have a good time and live to tell your friends and family about it. There are places along the way, including around Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls that the water moves fairly swiftly, so if you get into the water, especially after a lot of rain, just pay attention to the current.
After this, you are only a half-mile from your destination, Mouse Creek Falls. You will see it before you get to it, and you will feel like you have made it in no time flat. At the 2 mile mark, a short side trail takes you to the falls and a nice bench to sit, watch the falls, have a snack or lunch, and just enjoy what you see. Mouse Creek Falls is a 45 foot waterfall that empties into a serene pool and stream. The area here is not nearly as large as Midnight Hole, but it is really nice. And since this waterfall is not often on anyone’s must do list, it doesn’t get that much traffic. Another nice thing is that about half of the people you might see on the trail don’t even go to the waterfall. Most of them are content to stop at Midnight Hole and have fun, so they don’t go any further. So there is a good chance you will have the falls entirely to yourself.
Once you have enjoyed the hike, you simply head back the way you came for a grand total of four miles. You can continue up this hike if you want to. The hike eventually connects with the Low Gap Trail, Swallow Fork Trail, and Camel Back Trail. There are no backcountry campsites on the Big Creek Trail, but you can continue another three miles to where the trail terminates to reach campsite #37. You could also stay over night at the campground near where you started your hike, so those are two good options. Just don’t forget that you need to make reservations for both and both have a fee, so you are best to do that in advance.