Fern Branch Falls
This easy to moderate hike to the 35' Fern Branch Falls is a botanist's delight. If you go in mid to late April, you'll be treated to a spectacular display of spring wildflowers. Unfortunately, everybody else that owns a camera also knows this and it's a mad battle for the limited amount of places to park. Again, go early! You could easily spend an entire day here wandering around looking for the perfect flower shot and taking the side trail to the Messer farm site before getting to the waterfall. The hike is around 4 miles round trip if you include the farm.
Directions: From I-40 in NC, cross into Tennessee and drive 8 miles to exit 443 - the Foothills Parkway. If the Parkway is closed, you will have to continue to exit 440 at US 321. Take the Foothills Parkway until it ends at 321/32. Turn left, drive just under 2 miles and turn right on 321. Drive 11.9 miles, cross the bridge over the Little Pigeon River, and immediately turn left on Greenbriar Rd. Coming from Gatlinburg, drive 5-6 miles from town and turn right on Greenbriar Rd. The parking area for the Porters Creek Trail is 4.1 miles down this gravel road. Drive slowly as the road narrows to 1 lane in places. At 3.2 miles you will pass the left turn for the Ramsay Cascades parking.
The hike begins at the gated road. The spring wildflower blooms begin almost immediately and continue all along Porters Creek in this area. At .6 miles into the hike, look on the right for a rock wall with steps that lead up to an old homestead. Up the trail a short distance from there, more steps lead up to an old cemetery. Continue up the trail for a total of about 1 mile to the spur trail for the Messer Farm site. Here are a couple of shots of the buildings.
On my visit in April 2009, there were a lot of downed trees at this Porters Creek Trail intersection, so be sure you continue on it and don't take the Brushy Mountain Trail by mistake. The trail narrows at this point as it continues through the forest. Spring wildflowers are now more sparse. In another 1/2 mile, the trail bends to the left and crosses a long log footbridge over Porters Creek. The wildflower blooms increase dramatically after the crossing and the area can become clogged with photographers and other people with their wildflower guides. The trail continues up for a short distance, then makes a hairpin turn to the right into one of the most prolific fringed phacelia displays in the Smokies. The next few pictures are from this area.
From here the trail narrows and becomes rocky. Most of the wildflowers peepers have turned around by now, but more flowers continue to bloom. At almost 2 miles from the parking area, the trail crosses Fern Branch on stones. Look to the left and Fern Branch Falls will be a short distance up the moss, fern and other plant covered rocks.
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