Porter's Creek Trail (4-1-17)
As the month of April dawns, spring once again slowly begins to spread its green blanket over the Southern Appalachians. Starting in late March more and more photos start popping up on my social media feeds and inevitably I catch the wildflower bug as I do every year. There are no shortage of prime destinations for seeing the first blooms of the season in this part of the country but one place in particular seems to always jump out at me as the prime spot to get my wildflower on. That place...the valley of Porter's Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in the Greenbrier area of the park, Porter's Creek is widely known for its stunning early season display of color. Due to the relatively low elevations of the valley floor spring arrives much earlier than the high ridges surrounding it. Starting in mid-March and peaking by early April, literally dozens of flowers make a simultaneous appearance here creating a fantastic spring kaleidoscope of color.
The Greenbrier area of the Smokies is located just a short distance west of Gatlinburg, off Highway 321. The road is well-marked. About three miles up the road you'll reach the junction with the Ramsey Prong Road which turns left over the river towards the trailhead for Ramsey Falls. Continuing straight at this junction for another mile will bring you to the parking area for the Porter's Creek Trail, where this hike begins. The Porter's Creek Trail follows the route of an old roadway which, prior to the existence of the park, led up to the small mountain community of Porter's Creek. Along the hike you'll see quite a bit of evidence of this historic communtiy through old moss-covered walls and a few remaining historic structures...most notably the old Messer Farmstead. Though the trail is roughly four miles in length I'd only be following it for about half that distance, as far as Fern Branch Falls. This would allow me to visit, along with the falls, the best areas for wildflower viewing as well as the Messer Farm.
As expected, this hike didn't disappoint. The stunning variety of wildflowers I saw, the beauty of a rain-refreshed Fern Branch Falls, and the added bonus of the visible history in the area all combined to help this short trek hit almost all my 'enjoyment' buttons for a hike. So, without further adieu...come on along with me and explore one of the more fascinating and varied hikes I've been on on the Smokies. As always...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.696929, -83.387743
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 4.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:45
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 1,900' Max. Elevation: 2,650'
Total Vertical Gain: 850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 378' (approach)
Trails Used (blaze color): Porter's Creek Trail (unblazed)