Mt. Sterling Trail is a difficult day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that features panoramic views and an amazing history. This trail meanders through old growth forest bursting with wildlife. At the top of the 5,842 feet Mt. Sterling, hikers will find an old fire tower built by the CCC in the 1930’s. The views from the top are nothing short of breathtaking and make the difficult ascent well worth it. The top of Mt. Sterling is where the park’s Balsam woolly adelgids infestation was first noticed in 1963. The small wingless insect has wiped out the vast majority of the smokies Fraser Firs.
The Mt. Sterling area has a colorful history. The remote valleys at its base were common hideouts for deserters during the Civil War. Both Union and Confederates often scoured the area for soldiers on the run. No case is more famous in lore than that of Henry Groom, his brother George and a simple-minded man named Mitchell Caldwell. Confederate Captain Albert Teague was tasked with finding draft dodgers after the Confederacy started conscription. When Teague found the three men hiding at the base of Mt. Sterling seized them and forced marched the men over Mount Sterling Gap. Once they arrived near the Cataloochee Turnpike near Indian Grave Branch, Teague gave a final haunting order. Henry Groom was a well-known fiddle player in the smokies and during the march he kept a tight grip on his prized fiddle. With death fast approaching, Teague order Henry to play a final tune for his captors… in a fitting final goodbye, Henry played “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” which to this day in rural Appalachia is known at the “The Groom's Tune.” After the melancholy melody finished, Henry prayed, his brother George cursed the soldiers and simple-minded Mitchell Caldwell simply grinned. The Grooms were executed, but it’s said Mitchell’s bewildered grin was too much for the execution squad to bare and they had to cover his face with a cap before ensuring he met his maker. Their bodies left abandoned on the side of the road were retrieved by Henry’s wife Eliza and buried in the Sutton Cemetery. A bullet-ridden tree stood for many years afterwards, serving as a reminder of the grisly deaths.
Entrance and Camping Fees
Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park 107 Park Headquarters Road Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Great Smoky Mountains Trails