Smoky Mountain Trail: Porters Creek

Smoky mountain rocky river flowing in autumn fall leaves nature

Porters Creek – 3.7 miles from Greenbrier Road to Campsite #31.

Highlights: Fern Fall, wildflowers including Volets, Spring Beauties, Trillium, Anemone, Bloodroot, Hepatica, Foamflower, and Phacalia.

Trailhead: Take US 321 5.9 miles east of Gatlinburg, TN and turn right onto the Greenbrier Road at the park entrance sign. Pass the ranger station and two picnic areas. At mile 4.1 park on a traffic loop and look for the gate and trail sign. Greenbrier Cove was heavily settled, and the established farmers and selective logging saved this area from big logging companies. In the early 1800’s the Whaley family is thought to have migrated from North Carolina through Dry Slice Gap and found this sheltered, fertile valley.

This trail is famous for its wildflower displays in early April and May. If you like to keep lists of what you see in bloom, you might see as many as 30-40 different species here. The trail gets a lot of use. After the gate, the trail rises gently, look for mosses, ferns and lots of wildflowers on the right bank. At mile 0.4 the foundation of the Cantwell house stands on the right and the John Whaley house and farm sites, stone walls, and springhouse foundations can be seen along the trail.

The trail crosses Long Branch on a bridge. Up the hill from the bridge, look for a large patch of crested dwarf iris, the Tennessee State Flower, on the left. They bloom in April and the leaves stay green the rest of the spring and summer. The old road ends at Porters Flat, the open area where the Whaleys first settled. The Brush Mountain Trail and the historic farm site is to the right and the Porters Creek Trail goes to the left.

The trail narrows but is an easy walking trail. It descends through a forest of large Hemlock trees and Fraser magnolias to the creek. Painted trillium blooms here in late April. The creek itself is deep and rushing, tumbling over great boulders. You will cross on a very long paved foot log that is ingeniously perched on two boulders with little cement platforms to make it level. Shortly after the foot log, you step into a different world, a moist sheltered cove with massive yellow buckeye trees and flowers carpeting the ground between them. In early to mid April, the fringed Phacalia look like a blanket of snow. Toothwort, trillium, spring beauty, hepatica, bloodroot, phlox, geraniums, trout lily, and foamflower are just the beginning of the flower list for Porters Creek. The trail turns right and ascends evenly, and as you go up, new flowers in each section brush against your ankles.

Soon the trail is high above the creek on your right, and you pass rock faces on the left. At this level you can find Dutchmen’s Pipe vine, wild ginger, speckled wood lily and Indian pink, all blooming in May and June. As the trail levels at 1.9 miles, a tiny creek crosses it after plunging and sliding over a 40′ waterfall called Fern Falls. The trail runs along a bench high above the creek. You can get a glimpse of cascades and crystal pools. At mile 3.7 the trail turns right toward the creek and comes to the campsite #31 signpost. A small spring just left of the signpost supplies water, and the campsite is just ahead. Beyond the spring an unmaintained path continues up to the Appalachian Trail at Dry Sluice Gap. Not only is it unmaintained but it rises 2,000 feet in just over a mile. If you’re looking for wildflowers – Porters Creek is the trail for you.