Porters creek greenbrier

Porters Creek Trail: Nature’s Best-Kept Secret

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If you’re seeking a serene and picturesque hiking experience in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, look no further than Porters Creek Trail. This hidden gem, nestled in the Greenbrier section of the park, offers a four-mile roundtrip hike filled with breathtaking views, historic landmarks, and the enchanting sight of a cascading waterfall. Whether you’re a local seeking an escape from the daily grind or an experienced tourist craving an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Porters Creek Trail has something for everyone.

Porters Creek Trail Features

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Round Trip Hours: 3 Hrs
  • Round Trip Miles: 4.0 Mi
  • Elevation Gain: 699 Ft

As you embark on your journey along Porters Creek Trail, you’ll be captivated by the beauty of its surroundings. The trail begins with a mile-long stretch on a gravel road, meandering alongside the tranquil banks of Porters Creek. Immerse yourself in the lush environment adorned with rushing streams, moss-covered rocks, and a dense canopy of trees. Springtime visitors are in for a special treat, as this section of the trail boasts some of the most remarkable wildflower displays in the region.

Discover the History Along the Porters Creek Trail

Approximately two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead, you’ll encounter the remnants of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead on the right side. Marked by old stone walls and rock formations, this site represents the early 1900s settlement of the Porters Creek community. The area remained small and untouched by commercialization due to the absence of a railroad serving the Greenbrier region. As you continue your hike, you’ll come across the Ownby Cemetery, a resting place of 23 souls, located on the right side of the trail and accessible via a small set of stairs.

For history enthusiasts, a short detour to the historic John Messer farm site is highly recommended. Veer right at the trail’s fork, and after a 350-yard walk, you’ll find yourself immersed in history. Explore John Whaley’s barn from 1875 and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club’s cabin, which was built in the mid-1930s. These well-preserved structures offer a glimpse into the past and the region’s rich heritage.

Footbridge over Porters Creek
Creator: Frank Kehren 

The Journey to Fern Branch Falls

To continue your adventure towards Fern Branch Falls, veer left at the trail’s fork. The gravel path will gradually transform into a hiking trail, leading you toward the captivating waterfall. The remaining one-mile stretch offers a gentle ascent, providing a pleasant challenge for hikers. Along the way, prepare yourself for an adrenaline-pumping moment as you cross a single log footbridge suspended above Porters Creek. Gripping the handrail tightly, you’ll navigate the height and size of this unique bridge.

Upon completing the two-mile hike, your efforts will be rewarded with a magnificent view of Fern Branch Falls. This breathtaking waterfall, boasting a series of cascades, stands tall at approximately forty feet. The falls derive their name from the lush mosses and ferns that surround them, creating a picturesque setting. At the base, you’ll encounter an impressive boulder field, adding to the natural grandeur. While Fern Branch Falls marks the turnaround point for most visitors, an adventurous option exists for those willing to venture further. A trail extends 1.7 miles from here to Backcountry Campsite 31, providing an opportunity for a more extended exploration.

Fern Branch Falls

Tips for an Unforgettable Experience

  1. Springtime Splendor: To witness the wildflower extravaganza, plan your visit during spring. The vibrant colors and fragrant blooms along Porters Creek Trail are an absolute delight.
  2. Winter Wonderland: When higher elevation trails are inaccessible due to road closures, Porters Creek Trail remains open and offers a picturesque winter hiking experience.
  3. BBQ Delights: After a fulfilling hike, treat yourself to a scrumptious picnic lunch at one of the Greenbrier picnic areas. Stop by Hungry Bear BBQ, conveniently located on 321 near the park entrance, to savor some mouthwatering barbeque delights.

How to Reach Porters Creek Trail

From downtown Gatlinburg, head East on 321 from Light #3 at the intersection of Parkway and 321. Drive approximately six miles until you spot the Hungry Bear BBQ restaurant on the left side. Prepare to turn right and enter the Greenbrier area. Although the entrance is marked by a Great Smoky Mountain National Park sign on the right, it can be easy to miss. Once you turn off onto Greenbrier Road, continue driving for approximately 3.1 miles until you reach a fork in the road. Keep right at the fork and travel for another 0.9 miles to reach the parking area and trailhead.

Unwind and Immerse Yourself in Nature

Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life by embarking on the Porters Creek Trail adventure. With its idyllic scenery, rich history, and mesmerizing beauty of Fern Branch Falls, this trail promises an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and explorers alike. Embrace the tranquility, immerse yourself in the serenity of the Smoky Mountains, and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

Here are some additional resource links for further information and planning your visit to Porters Creek Trail:

  1. Official National Park Service Website for Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Explore the official website to gather comprehensive information about the park, including trail maps, visitor guides, and current park alerts.
  2. Great Smoky Mountains Association – The association’s website offers a wealth of resources, including books, maps, and educational materials to enhance your understanding of the park’s natural and cultural history.
  3. SmokyMountains.com – Porters Creek Trail – Find detailed trail information, tips, and reviews on this dedicated hiking resource website.
  4. Fern Branch Falls – Discover more about the captivating Fern Branch Falls, including its features, photography opportunities, and nearby attractions.
  5. Greenbrier Picnic Areas – Learn about the various picnic areas within the Greenbrier section of the park, perfect for enjoying a relaxing meal amidst nature.

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