April 1, 2017

Porter Creek Trail

  • 4.88 miles
  • 4:41 duration
  • 755 feet elevation gain

My hiking stick and I were joined by tncorgi (Mary) for a hike along the Porter Creek Trail in the Greenbriar area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a trail I enjoy visiting around this time each year, because the wildflowers are abundant.

When we arrived at the trail head around 10:00 am, the parking area was already full and we had to park some distance away along the road. The hike along Porter Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls is four miles round trip, but the details you see above include the walk from the car to the trail head, as well as a short hike past the falls along the trail.

Along the trail we saw many types of wildflowers including three species of trillium, wood and rue anemone, trout lily, wild geranium, dwarf ginseng, wild ginger, dutchman’s britches, squirrel corn and more. The trail was as crowded as you would expect with the full parking area. We chatted with hikers of all ages, and from near and far. We enjoyed trading the names of different wildflowers with fellow travelers.

As we had seen in photos on social media, the last bridge has been improved with a second handrail, which I’m certain makes a lot of hikers very happy. I know of a few who found that bridge very scary to cross.

Soon after crossing that bridge, we reached my favorite part of the hike. At this time of year, the forest floor is carpeted with the white blossoms of fringed phacelia. It was just past its peak bloom, but still a beautiful sight.

Not long after the phacelia we reached Fern Branch Falls. They were flowing better than I have seen on previous hikes. I was also very fortunate to arrive just in time to get some decent photos before the sun came out in full force. While I took photos of the falls, Mary made her traditional scramble up to the top. She is one tough lady.

After enjoying a short lunch break, we decided to explore the trail past the falls. We hiked about .4 mile before reaching a large tree across the trail, and at this point decided to turn back. This added section was worth the extra steps because we saw several nice examples of fraser sedge.

The nice thing about this hike is that once you head back, it is downhill nearly the whole way back to the car. There were still many hikers headed up the trail as we hiked out, but the parking lot was not nearly as full as we had seen in the morning. We stopped on the way back for a short rest and to retie our boots to prevent toe cramps. As we were sitting there, a local hiking legend, Mike Maples, came by. Mary called out to him and we enjoyed a nice chat.

We finished up our day with a stop at our traditional eating spot, Carver’s Applehouse Restaurant in Cosby. The food here is great southern fare, and your meal starts out with apple cider served with apple fritters and apple butter.

Each time I have done this hike the last four years, I have been very thankful that I was able to hike it feeling healthy and pain free. In 2012 I made this hike in the midst of a gall stone attack that sent me to the ER later in the day. As my level of fitness improves, this hike also gets easier each year, for which I am thankful. I hope I have the opportunity for many return trips.

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