Porters Creek Trail
|Trail Features:||Waterfall, History, Wildflowers, Stream|
|Roundtrip Length:||4.0 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||699 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||350 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||2642 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||5.4 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.69696|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.38773|
Directions to Trailhead:
At the junction of 441 and 321 in
Gatlinburg (Light 3), turn
to travel eastbound on 321. Drive 6 miles and turn right into
for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance sign on the right).
road will turn into a gravel road after a short distance. Drive 3.1
miles to a
fork in the road. Continue straight at this junction to reach the
trailhead. The parking lot will be almost another mile from this fork.
The first mile of the Porters Creek Trail is actually an old gravel road, which winds through a lush forest of moss covered trees and rocks as it follows Porters Creek. If you happen to have the opportunity to hike this trail during the spring you'll be greeted by an awesome display of yellow trillium near the trailhead.
Roughly two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead several old stone walls will appear on your right, remnants from the Elbert Cantrell farmstead, who settled in the Porters Creek community in the early 1900s. Also on your right, just past the stone walls, is the Ownby Cemetery, which also dates back to the early part of the 20th century.
After crossing over a footbridge hikers will reach a fork in the road, roughly one mile from the trailhead. The trail to the right leads to an historic farm site. A short hike of roughly 250 yards will take you to the John Messer farm site, which includes a cantilevered barn built by John Whaley around 1875. There's also a cabin on this site that was built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in the mid-1930s. Members of the club were permitted to use the cabin as an overnight facility until 1981.
To continue on towards the waterfalls at this junction, go left at the fork. You'll walk another 100 feet and will arrive at another trail junction. Go left again to continue on the Porters Creek Trail.
The old road finally turns into a path at this point. You'll also begin to see much larger old-growth trees as you head further upstream. At 1.6 miles you'll cross a second footbridge. It was past this bridge that we began to see numerous wildflowers. The forest floor was literally carpeted with bloodroot, hepaticas, white fringed phacelia, violets, white trilliums and other flowers during our hike in late March.
As the season progresses into April and May you can find yellow trillium, toothwort, wild geranium, May-apple, dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, baneberry, foam flower, halberd-leaved violets, woodland bluets and Jack-in-the-pulpits along the trail as well.
At roughly 2 miles, you'll arrive at the 60-foot Fern Branch Falls, which drops off the ridge to the left of the trail. During high water flows this can be a fairly spectacular waterfall. This particular hike ends at this point, but the trail continues on for another 1.7 miles to Backcountry Campsite 31.
Although a great option for a hike any time of the year, the Porters Creek Trail is a perfect pick when snow makes foot travel difficult in the higher elevations, or forces the closure of roads throughout other parts of the park.