Mt. Sterling Fire tower
towards Mt. Cammerer
from the firetower
The 60 foot fire tower was built by the CCC in 1933. The trap
door is open and if you don't mind a shaky 66 year old structure,
the views are breathtaking. The ridge to the west has another interesting
fire tower on Mt. Cammerer. While camping here recently, a trip
up the fire tower at night revealed one of the wilderness qualities
that the Park has. No lights within the boundaries of the park.
You could see the lights of Waynesville but couldn't see any (visible)
within the 550,000 acres that park has. At sunrise it seemed like
the mountains rolled on forever.
If you look down in the valley to the southeast you
can make out I-40 over 4000 feet below. It's that white ribbon that
winds between mountain ranges. Huge views and an interesting summit
make this a great spot to take a break. After drinking in the views
head back to Pretty Hollow Gap.
Resting at Pretty Hollow Gap
The trail down to Cataloochee and campsite 39
After lowering the packs out of the trees head down Pretty Hollow
Gap Trail. At this point the forest is mixture of spruce fir and
hardwoods. The next 4 miles to campsite 39 is an easy downhill walk
into the Cataloochee Valley. To the left of the trail, down a precipitous
slope is Pretty Hollow Creek. As you descend to Cataloochee the
forest changes from beeches and maples to hickory, oaks and pines.
Welcome back to the South! After approximately 2 miles the trail
crosses the creek and its a short stroll to Campsite 39 and the
The Cataloochee Valley has cool rushing creeks and some old growth
timber. Campsite 39 is within sight of Pretty Hollow Creek. It is
in a nice group of pines, and offers a reasonable amount of privacy.
There are moss covered stone walls and several nice swimming holes.
On a recent trip, Bear warning signs were posted around the campsite.
Hang the food and grab the camera! We had one watch
us as we were eating. He or she was just waiting for us to look
away or leave our food.
It is a short (1.2 mile) walk to Cataloochee, an interesting restoration
of buildings that depict early mountain life. A Schoolhouse, Church
and several houses are maintained for Park visitors. Cataloochee
is one of the lesser traveled campgrounds (car) in the Park and
has a couple of nice day hike trails. Another worthwhile side
After a restful nights sleep next to Pretty Hollow creek continue
a few hundred feet on the trail to the junction with Palmer Creek
Trail. Cross the creek on the foot bridge and begin a moderate climb
up Palmer Creek Trail. The trail climbs up to Balsam Mountain Road
and gains 1500' in elevation in 3 1/4 miles. The climb begins in
a lush, cove hardwood forest. The creek is visible through the trees
and the sound of rushing water fills the ears. After the trail crosses
another footbridge the climb becomes steeper. Not a problem though,
there are some cold drinks in the car. The forest becomes much drier
and you will see more rhododendron as you approach Balsam Mountain
Road. After reaching the road turn right and walk a 1/2 of a mile
or so to the car. The ride out on the dirt road is like eating dessert
after a great dining experience!
The Balsam Mountain area is just off of the Blue
Ridge Parkway south of Maggie Valley. Take I-40 to the Waynesville
exit and take Rt. 19-74. Rt. 19 forks right and travels through
Valley. After you pass through Maggie get on the Blue Ridge
Parkway and turn towards Cherokee. In 5 or 6 miles a sign direct
you to turn right to Balsam Mountain. Follow the road into the park
and enter the Balsam Mountain Road at the end of the pavement. The
dirt road is a high elevation ride that ends in
it from your house with MAPQUEST>>>>