Porter Creek Trail
- 4.6 miles
- 5:40 duration
- 898 elevation gain
- 40 types of wildflowers
Once again, I am very late in writing this post, but wanted to log the miles hiked and chronical our experience on this hike. I joined my friend Mary on her 66th birthday in hiking the Porter Creek Trail in the Great Smoky National Park. This hike has become a bit of a spring tradition for us so that we can see the beautiful wildflowers that bloom along this trail.
I was dealing with some sinus issues that I attributed to spring allergies, but other than the drainage and raspy voice felt pretty good.
We arrived at the trail head at 10:40 am, finding a full parking lot as expected. This is a very popular trail at this time of year, and we knew we would have plenty of company on a beautiful Saturday morning. Mary’s birthday mojo was working, however, and we found an empty parking spot very near the gate.
As we started up the trail, we immediately began seeing wildflowers blooming. This hike was not about time and distance, but about finding as many different wildflowers as we could. We made our way very slowly up the trail, with me taking photographs and Mary writing down the names of the flowers we we discovered on the envelope that had contained the birthday card I gave her. I was carrying my Nikon camera, but ended up using my new iPhone 8’s camera just as much as the Nikon. I was very pleased with the quality of the photos I ended up with.
One of the things I love about hiking this trail in spring, is that all along the way we encounter others who are there for the same reason. Often, we will chat with our fellow trekkers, comparing notes on what flowers we had seen or not yet seen. We discovered that we were still a little too early to see pink lady slippers in bloom, but could see their leaves starting to come up. We were just in time for one of my favorites though – the crested dwarf iris.
A highlight of this trip is always crossing the not-so-scary-anymore bridge. This one-lane wooden bridge used to strike terror into many a hiker. It crosses high across the rushing creek, is very narrow, and used to just have a handrail on one side. This hand rail was low and angled out from the bridge to accommodate backpacks, which made it a bit awkward to use. You almost felt as if you were leaning out over the water to reach it.
Mary loves to tell about the first time she hiked this trail. She says that when she reached the bridge, there were several people bunched up on the lower end. She asked what was happening, and someone said they were trying to work up the courage to cross.
A few years ago, they added a handrail to the other side which makes it feel a lot less frightening to cross. We did not see anyone hesitating on this trip.
Just after crossing the bridge, we stopped to have some lunch by the creek. I decided to take a selfie of Mary and I (or is that an “ussie”?). Only after I had snapped the picture did I turn and notice that several feet behind Mary, a man had just pulled down his young son’s pants so that he could pee in the creek. I looked at the phone and sure enough, I had caught him with his pants down. I waited until they had finished and moved on before re-taking the photo.
When we had eaten, we continued our hike, soon reaching the bend in the trail that signals the beginning of the fringed phacelia. There was still a good bit of it blooming, but it wasn’t the snowy-white carpet that we have seen in previous years.
Eventually, we reached the fartherest point of our hike, Fern Branch Falls. It was flowing well after a lot of spring rains. We paused on the rocks below the falls for a rest, and discovered our first sighting of a jack-in-the-pulpit next to the rock that Mary was sitting on. This is another of my favorites.
Mary makes the climb up the steep hillside beside the falls each year for a birds-eye view near the top, and I typically stay below to take photos. Since the day was very sunny and not that conducive to waterfall photography, I decided to go to the top of the falls with her this year. She remarked that it was a little easier this year because there wasn’t as much mud as she has encountered in previous years.
Once we had reached her usual perch, we saw that someone had installed a rope to assist those wanting to climb higher. I took advantage of the opportunity and climbed up to see what the stream looks like above the falls. I found that there is quite a lot of blowdown covering the stream, so it is not very picturesque, but I enjoyed the views from this high vantage point.
Once we had made our way back to the bottom of the falls, we headed back down the trail. The trip back down went much more quickly, although we still took our time. It is amazing how many wildflowers we often discover on the return trip that we had missed on the way up. Mary did a great job spotting dwarf ginseng and some more jack-in-the-pulpits so that I could photograph them.
We arrived back at the parking area to find it just as full as when we had started the hike. As we drove out the gravel road toward the highway we encoutered several more vehicles just coming in.
Once at the highway, we crossed it to look for a geocache that was hidden since our last visit. Unfortunately, as we drove past, we saw that a car was parked right next to the cache location. We went up the road just a little and pulled into a parking lot where we waited for a little while to see if they would leave. There was also a sheriff’s car in the parking lot, and we wondered if he was watching them for some reason.
Eventually, we got tired of waiting and decided to head toward our traditional post-hike restaurant. Just as we approached the cache, the other car pulled out, proving that Mary’s birthday mojo was still in full force. We whipped in and I got out to find the cache. It took me much longer than it should have, but I finally came up with it and signed our names to the log.
As I got back in the truck, I suddenly realized why the sheriff’s deputy had been sitting nearby. There had been a running race earlier in the day, and a lone straggler walked by as we were preparing to leave. She may not have won the race, but you have to give her credit for staying with it to the end.
We made our way to Carver’s Apple House Restaurant in Cosby where we enjoyed a delicious meal. Despite my best intentions of saving part of my meal to take home, I managed to eat all of it. I didn’t feel too badly about the indulgence, considering I had just hiked all day.
By this time I had no voice at all, but still didn’t feel sick other than the sinus drainage. Unfortunately, that changed over the next couple of days, and by the time I went to the doctor on Tuesday I was in the throes of a full-blown bacterial sinus infection.
It was worth it, though. I enjoyed a great day hiking with a good friend. The weather was perfect, and we saw a great variety of wildflowers.
I took hundreds of photos as usual, and posted about 50 on my Facebook page shortly after the hike. I am not going to repost them here, in the interest of saving storage space, so if you would like to see them, you can view the album here.