Saturday, April 5, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Porters Creek Trail

This morning, Noelle, Sierra and I packed up and headed out for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I've paid a few visits to the most-visited national park in the US in the past few weeks, today would be Noelle's first visit in quite a while, and Sierra's first visit ever! We made the drive on US-321 through Cosby and parked at the end of the Greenbrier Road, where we got our stuff ready
ready for hike
and hit the trail.

The start of the trail is actually an old road. We followed the gently ascending gravel road along the cascading Porters Creek. 
Porters Creek
The Porters Creek Trail is reputed to display some great wildflowers in late March and early April, but at first it seemed we might be a little bit too early for a good showing. We did find some purple phlox
and a few white trillium along the first mile of trail.
single trillium
If wildflowers weren't exactly in abundance at first, signs of past habitation were. There were lots of stone walls lining the trail and even an interesting set of stairs that probably led into someone's yard at one time.
old stairs

Soon we found a cemetery.  What I later learned is the Ownby-Longbranch Cemetery. It was a lot like many of the other cemeteries in the park, only this one saw a much higher number of visitors. So many visitors in fact, that there was a well-defined trail that made a loop through the cemetery. I took photos of a few of the headstones, including one that belonged to a soldier.
Proffitt grave
Soon after visiting the cemetery, our gravel road ended at a cul-de-sac and we continued on a narrow, but well-worn trail. We crossed Porters Creek on a long, narrow, log bridge and soon entered a section of trail whose sides were just carpeted with wildflowers and greenery.
green carpet
There were Dutchman's breeches
Dutchmans breeches
and lots of white fringed phacelia.
fringy flower
We took some time to enjoy the flower and take off some layers as it was growing warmer.
Noelle hikes amongst flowers

Shortly after the flower-carpeted section of trail, we came to Fern Branch Falls.
Fern Branch Falls
Sierra enjoyed getting out of the backpack and stretching her legs on a rock.
on rock
Then it was time for a snack!
ready for snack
eating snack
After our snack (and a diaper change for Sierra) we hit the trail again. I had originally wanted to try to hike the entire length of the trail, but it was a wise decision to turn around and head back to the car. Besides, we still had plenty to see on our hike back.

Of course we saw more wildflowers.
two trillium
We crossed the long footbridge over Porters Creek
Noelle crosses big bridge
and followed the trail back to the gravel road section. Here we took a side trip to the Messer Barn,
cantilevered cabin
a cantilever style barn built in the 1870s, and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin which had been built in the 1930s.
Smoky Mountain Hiking Club
Apparently, the NPS allowed members of the club to use the cabin up until 1981. It must have been quite the experience to stay in the old cabin. Besides the cabin there was a springhouse
and some old millstones scattered around the grounds.
on millstone

Our last stop on the hike was  side trail that we had passed up earlier. It turns out that it led to the very rusty remains of an old Ford Model-T.
old model T
Noelle took her for a short spin and then we hiked back to the car. We even let Sierra do some hiking on her own out of the backpack. On the way home we stopped for a delicious late lunch at Carver's Apple House Restaurant. Then it was a long drive back to Greeneville. I was glad to get home. It had been a great day, but I was very tired!                     

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