The Porters Creek Trail in the Smokies is well-known to locals and visitors alike in the springtime. It's known as the wildflower hike and is popular among hikers and photographers from late winter until mid spring for the variety and beauty of the flowers growing alongside the trail. I recently did a backpacking trip up to Campsite 31 for the night and got to enjoy all kinds of weather - from sunshine to rain to mist to sleet all in the span of about 30 hours! Here's a recap of my recent hike on Porters Creek Trail.
We arrived around 11 a.m. to a packed parking area at the end of the gravel road in Greenbrier. While usually a packed trailhead means for busy hiking, we knew many hikers would be turning around before they reached our final destination for the evening. It also was a good sign that the wildflowers were going to be extraordinary today! Word tends to travel fast in this park about the flowers blooming, so busy trailheads mean pretty sights much of the time. We began our walk gently uphill on the former roadbed that is the first mile of the Porters Creek Trail. After reaching the old traffic circle, the literal end of the road, we took a detour over to the John Messer Barn and the old Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin before continuing up trail.
We got onto the more narrow foot path and kept climbing at our gentle grade, crossing a unique log bridge and walking into the section of this trail that contains the old growth forest. Now our trees are bigger and more varied! We turn the corner to switch back up the hill and the forest is now carpeted in gorgeous fringed phacelia! As we are walking through and admiring the flowers we also see a few trout lillies that are just about to open. It's been raining for a few minutes now, so the flowers are starting to wilt and close up a little. We spot some spring beauties and continue up to the side trail to Fern Branch Falls. While here we begin to spot white trillium and even the makings of some yellow trillium. We also spot a small patch of Dutchman's Britches.
After a break at the waterfall most people are now turning around in the rain to head back down to their cars. We, however, will continue uphill toward campsite 31. We see the endemic (only found in this park) flower Fraiser's sedge along the way. The sun begins to come out about 30 minutes from the campsite making for pleasant walking and happy campers! We roll into the site around 5 p.m. with only two other people there for the night. We are able to set up camp, collect water, and have dinner and a small campfire before finally calling it a night.
We wake in the morning to a misty, nearly imperceptible rain falling. We have coffee and breakfast together before finally breaking camp and heading back down trail. The misty rainfall never stops and we even have a few periods of sleet. At this time I sure am glad I have my new Swing liteflex umbrella keeping me dry! I had been using it the whole trip and can even go hands-free if I need to since it attaches to the sternum strap on my pack! The rain finally let up as we reached the end of the trail and got back onto the old gravel roadbed. We were all very happy to be close to the cars, meaning the relative warmth of our cars and hot showers at home awaited us!
If you want to try this hike for yourself, either as a day hike, trail run, or backpacking trip it's easy to find! Get your campsite reservation at https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/ for campsite #31 if you want to backpack. You'll drive to the Greenbrier entrance of the park and follow the road approximately four miles straight back to the Porter's Creek Trailhead. Be prepared to walk a little ways if you're hiking on a weekend - parking tends to fill on beautiful weekends! You'll follow the Porter's Creek Trail approximately 3.7 miles back to the campsite. See the map and elevation profile below.