Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hiking - Fern Branch Fire Tower Day Hike

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Fern Branch Fire Tower Day Hike - Smoky Mountain Hiking


Length: 3.8 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Highlights: Wonderful spring wildflowers, lesser-known waterfall
Note: Trail is used heavily in the spring – hike early in the morning to avoid crowds

Fern Branch Falls Dayhike

Looking for a short, easy wildflower walk in the Smokies? No wildflower pilgrimage would be complete without a walk to Fern Branch Falls. Located on the Porter’s Creek Trail in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this two-mile excursion leads you along a shady creek, past dozens of species of spring and summer wildflowers, and through a bit of history as well.

The Greenbrier section of the park is located about six miles east of Gatlinburg on Highway 321. Turn into Greenbrier and drive to the very end of the road (about four miles from the entrance). You’ll find a large parking area and a sign for the Porter’s Creek Trail.

You’ll begin your walk on a gravel road with a gentle uphill grade. Begin to watch for traces of history. After a half-mile or so, old foundations and stone walls will be visible to the careful observer. Greenbrier was once one of the most heavily populated areas of what is now the National Park, supporting several hundred people. Residents built homes, churches, schools, gristmills and blacksmith shops, and called this valley home.

Before long, you’ll cross a bridge over the creek. Watch the right hand side of the trail for a set of stone steps leading up the embankment. This short diversion takes you to the Ownby Cemetery.

The gravel road ends after a mile in Porter’s Flat. You’ll see a junction for the Brushy Mountain Trail, as well as the old Hiking Club Cabin.

Continue to the left up the Porter’s Creek Trail. The trail narrows significantly after leaving the flat, but the walking remains relatively easy if you take it at a leisurely pace. Although wildflowers abound throughout the hike, this second half of the walk will take you through fields of trillium and phacelia, which bloom in the month of April.

You’ll cross the creek yet again, this time on a long foot log. Soon you’ll enter a beautiful cove, carpeted with flowers. I’ve walked through this section of the woods in early spring on many an occasion, and the gentle scent of wildflowers finds you wherever you go… there’s no need to stop and smell the flowers, unless you simply want a larger dose of their sweet aroma.

Fern Branch Falls will appear on your left at just under two miles into your walk. The falls are actually a series of small cascades, about forty feet tall, lined with plants and wildflowers. This is an excellent place to take a break and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Continuing on up the trail will take you out of the wildflowers and eventually to campsite #31 after two more miles (7.4 miles total roundtrip). The walk back to the parking area is a pleasant downhill stroll.

The walk to Fern Branch Falls is famous for its wildflower displays, so it is best enjoyed in the early hours of the day for solitude. Happy hiking!

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