Porters Creek Trail — wildflowers, creek crossings and historic buildings

May 4, 2022

FOTS hikers at Messer Barn

by Steve Winchester, hike leader

We began our hike up Porters Creek trail on Tuesday, April 12, in a slight drizzle that stuck with us most of the day. 

Due to the weather forecast, our numbers reduced to around 25 hikers, but everyone came prepared for bad weather so we marched on.  Haley and Steve Pierce (sweep) accompanied our numbers. 

Due to the weather, we didn’t spend as much time as normal getting to know the backgrounds of each hiker, but we did discover many were first-time hikers on Porters Creek and even some were first-time hikers in the Smokies. 

hikers start Porters Creek Trail hike
Hikers prepare to start the Porters Creek Trail hike. Photo by Linda Spangler

Messer Barn

Our first stop was at the Messer Barn approximately a mile in just off the trail. Due to the weather, we thought we better get our group photo early as we may lose a few on the way and the barn seemed a great backdrop for the photo. (See photo at the top of the page.)

I told the hikers a little about the barn and nearby Smoky Mountain Hiking Clubhouse, but we did not stay and explore at that time.  I encouraged all to stop back by on their way out as with the graveyard and old house site. 


We continued on the trail pointing out many of the wildflowers along the way – many of the hikers on the trail were avid flower id’ers.  We saw many trillium, toothworts, dwarf irises at this point. 

The rain had stopped, but the creek was raging due to all the rain, which made it spectacular but also a bit scary for some of the hikers crossing the bridge further up the trail.  No one turned back at the bridge although a few joked they would have to stay in the woods the rest of their lives since they really didn’t want to cross back.

Fern Branch Falls

We made our way to Fern Branch Falls for our first break since the barn. Folks enjoyed taking pictures (especially with the break in the rain).  The rocks across Fern Branch Falls were particularly slippery due to the rain but no casualties. 

Fern Branch Falls
Fern Branch Falls. Photo by Linda Spangler

Saw plenty of phacelia, squirrel corn, dutchman’s breeches, branch lettuce and started to see some trout lilies.  Saw larger stands of trillium as we went up the trail, some stone crop and yellow root – even began to see some old growth poplars, which was a first for many of the hikers. 

By the time we reached the campsite, the rain was pretty steady so we probably didn’t stay there more than 10 minutes when most were ready to go.  Some had even left before then as the trail was getting pretty muddy by then. 

Water crossing

The trip back across the bridge was again scary for a few since the water was still raging, but we took our time and everyone made it safely.  By this time, we were pretty fragmented, but some did brave the elements and checked out the graveyard and barn more closely.

Aside from the weather, it was a great trip — and even the weather wasn’t bad as it never really rained hard. 

A successful hike and great for FOTS to finally get back to Porters Creek after a three-year hiatus. 

Steve Winchester is a member of the FOTS Hike Advisory Team. After a 15-year career with the United States Air Force, Steve joined a government contracting firm based in northern Virginia and works out of his home as a system engineer. Having grown up in Western North Carolina, he has had the opportunity to explore and hike these hills his whole life, and he especially enjoys time in the Smokies.

Register for Classic Hikes

Classic Hikes of the Smokies are the second Tuesday of the month, from March through December.

The cost is $20 per hike for current members of Friends of the Smokies, and $35 for new and renewing members of Friends of the Smokies (includes one-year membership and hike registration).

The next available hike is from Clingmans Dome to Silers Bald on June 14. You must register prior to the hike.

Many of the Classic Hikes are part of the 100 Favorite Trails Challenge. Porters Creek Trail = Hike #25. Clingmans Dome to Silers Bald = Hike #21.

Trails Forever improves GSMNP trails

Proceeds from the Classic Hike series benefit Trails Forever.

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Friends of the Smokies established the Trails Forever endowment in 2012, thanks to a matching gift from the Aslan Foundation in Knoxville.

Today, the endowment has grown to more than $6 million and funds a full-time trail crew in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reconstruct and rehabilitate some of the park’s most impacted trails.

The FOTS Trails Forever crew has restored Forney Ridge TrailChimney Tops TrailAlum Cave Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, and Abrams Falls Trail.

This year, the Trails Forever crew will be restoring Ramsey Cascades Trail.

Learn more about contributing to the Trails Forever endowment.

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