Fern Branch Falls is a beautiful 50-foot waterfall that lies along Porters Creek Trail, which is a moderately difficult 4-mile round-trip (2 miles each way) hike in the eastern part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail features some wonderful natural scenery and is one of the less traveled trails that you can drive to, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you crave a walk in the woods.
Scenery of the Smokies
When most people think of the Great Smoky Mountains they conjure up images of majestic vistas, cool rushing streams, and dense forest. Well, Porters Creek Trail leading to Fern Branch Falls features these kinds of scenes in abundance. Early in the journey you’ll travel alongside Porters Creek and see some of the moss-covered stones and trees that are characteristic of this ecosystem.
As you cross over a log bridge that will take you deeper into the forest towards the waterfall, you’ll also pass by a cemetery and some of the remnants of the Greenbrier Cove settlement. These old structures are also common throughout the area and give you a good sense of the history of this place before the national park was established. Finally you’ll come to Fern Branch Falls, a 50-foot high waterfall that’s the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat, some relaxation, and some memorable photos. The trail continues for another 1.7 miles to Campground 31, a back country camping area.
The park a little less traveled
If you’ve ever visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you know that some of the most popular sections of the park can see heavy visitor traffic during busy seasons and especially holiday weekends. This certainly holds true for the more famous hiking trails, but Porters Creek Trail is located in the eastern part of the park near Greenbrier, and it’s an area that sees fewer visitors than some of the others. You’ll still see other people on the trail, but it usually feels a little more sedate than the more crowded places in the park. The entrance to the national park at Greenbrier is actually a nice way to slip into the park and avoid some of the crowds.
Stop and smell the wildflowers
Every season presents its own unique beauty on this trail, but if you want to catch some spectacular wildflowers in bloom you should make a point to visit in the spring, especially in late April or early May. Approximately 40 different species of wildflowers grow in the areas surrounding this trail, and they can make for some great photo ops when they’re at full bloom. This time of the year also happens to coincide with pleasant hiking temperatures to make things even better.
Also, since it’s named Fern Branch Falls you would expect there to be some lush ferns on the trail, and you’d be right. Overall, it’s a beautiful trail and waterfall with plenty of opportunities to see some spectacular natural settings.
It’s a world away without going too far
The peaceful hike along Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls takes you through some very scenic sections of the park and feels removed from the activity of Gatlinburg. But it’s still easy to get to from most places and makes for an excellent day trip that you can combine with a variety of other activities. Pack up your car with your hiking gear, head off on a lovely scenic drive from your cabin, and get ready for a peaceful hike down a special path in the Smokies.