Trail: Porters Creek Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Old Forest Road, Forest Trail
Distance: 7.2 miles
Time: 4 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Equestrians: Allowed on 1st Mile Only
Restrooms: Pit Toilet at Picnic Areas (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Waterfalls, Streams, Wildflowers, Historical Places, Equestrians
DEFINITION: Basically, a pit toilet is an upscale outhouse.
Porters Creek Trail Trailhead
From Gatlinburg: At traffic light #3, take East Parkway (US 321-N) 6-miles to Greenbrier Road, just before the Little Pigeon River Bridge. A Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance sign is on the right side of the road. Turn right at the sign and drive 4-miles to the trailhead at the end of Greenbrier Road.
IMPORTANT: Greenbrier Road is a narrow paved road that eventually turns into a gravel road. It will not accommodate large vehicles. A sign indicates that vehicles bigger than a pickup truck should not proceed. While technically the road is two-way, it is very narrow in spots. In addition, park regulations forbid roadside parking on this road.
Porters Creek Trail Description
After turning onto Greenbrier Road, it is obvious you entered a forested area. By the time you get to the trail, lush vegetation, mature trees, rock formations, and streams surround you.
According to the National Park Service, it is a great place to fish and hike, but it is off the beaten path. As a result, Porters Creek Trail is one of the least utilized trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are in the Gatlinburg area, do not miss this walk in the woods.
Abundant wildflowers grow along the first mile of the trail and at the trailhead. Some say that a spring hike on Porters Creek Trail is unequaled in the Smokies. The best time for viewing wildflowers is from April to May, although the trail is open year round.
For the first mile, the trail surface is a gravel roadbed. It then transforms into a traditional dirt forest trail. While hiking the first mile, expect to see several old stone walls, the Ownby Cemetery, and a couple of historic farming areas. Occasionally, you may see a horse or two.
A cantilevered barn built in 1875 sits at the John Messer farm. The Smoky Mountain Hiking Club’s clubhouse, built in the 1930’s, also sits there. Follow the small footpath to see these historic buildings.
What remains of the Cantrell farm is along the first mile of the trail as well.
One of the highlights of the Porters Creek Trail is Fern Branch Falls waterfall located at mile two. After spring rains, Fern Branch Falls is quite impressive.
Continue hiking for another 1.5 miles to reach Backcountry Campsite #31. If you want to camp at here, you must get a permit from the National Park Service. The trail ends 3.6-miles from the trailhead.
VIDEO: Fern Branch Falls | Porters Creek Trail
Nearby Points of Interest
Greenbrier Picnic Pavilion is located on Greenbrier Road. Ramsey Cascades Trail is accessible from Greenbrier Road. Ramsey Cascades waterfall is 4.0 miles from the trailhead. Expect a full day of hiking on this trail.