Monday, April 22, 2013

Brushy Mountain Trail

New Miles Completed: 4.5
Total Miles Hiked: 11.8
21 April 2013

Spring has finally sprung here in the Smokies!  It's a glorious time of the year for hiking and I took full advantage yesterday.  I had been to Brushy Mountain twice before, but both times had come up the Trillium Gap trail which comes up from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  Brushy Mountain trail starts in Porters Flats, out at the end of the Greenbrier Road, a mile along the Porters Creek trail.

Porters Creek trailhead

Porters Creek trail is widely known as a great spot for wildflowers and it definitely didn't disappoint!  Rather than post a zillion wildflower pictures here I'll give you a link to my Facebook photo album where you can see them all.

The first mile of the Porters Creek trail is a continuation of the gravel Greenbrier Road, although vehicles are no longer allowed.  Along the way you will see lots of evidence of the former occupants - rock walls and stairs, and even the old Ownby Cemetery.

rock wall built by pre-park residents

the Ownby Cemetery

At the end of the gravel road is a loop turn-around - this is where the Brushy Mountain trail begins, and also where a short side trail leads to the John Messer cantilever barn (1875) and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin (1934).

John Messer cantilever barn

Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin

From here the Brushy Mountain trail heads 4.5 miles up to Trillium Gap before rising another 0.4 miles up to the summit of Brushy Mountain.  The total elevation gain from the Porters Creek trailhead to the summit is about 2900 feet over a total distance of 5.9 miles.  It's not terrible in terms of steepness, but it is pretty persistent.  You are going UP almost the whole way.  Much of the trail looks like this - fairly deeply rutted and constantly uphill.

typical section of Brushy Mountain trail

Once you leave Porters Flats and start heading up hill the trail follows a typical pattern of ridge-side walking and then coming back into a draw with a creek crossing.  The ridge-sides tend to be drier and have relatively few wildflowers, while the moist, cool draws have a profusion.  There are some nice views back toward Greenbrier Pinnacle too.

Greenbrier Pinnacle as seen from Brushy Mountain trail

Water slide at trail crossing of Trillium Branch

I made a rookie mistake on this hike - one I often warn my kids and Boy Scouts about.  I started thinking I was closer to the end than I really was, and started looking for the end of the trail around every corner.  As long as I've been doing this I should know better, and it's the most frustrating thing in the world!  As I was hiking along thinking I must almost be there, I came around a corner to this view:

Brushy Mountain ridge (w/ dead hemlocks in the foreground)

that's Brushy Mountain - I still had to wind my way around to Trillium Gap and then up to the top of that ridge before my day was half-done.  That was cause for a rest stop, a snack & drink, and a pep talk.  But at least now I knew where I was, and that's always a relief, even if it means you still have a long way to go.  

The rest of the trip up to Trillium Gap was quite pleasant.  The trail goes through some nice meadow-ish areas with lots of Trillium, Trout Lily and Spring Beauty.  It was about 4 pm by now and the sun was starting to get that awesome late afternoon slant that makes everything look even cooler than normal.

Trout Lily & Spring Beauty

I FINALLY ambled into Trillium Gap and heaved a big sigh of relief.  And I have to rant about this again - there are NO Trilliums in Trillium Gap...  There's a lot of grass (which is why it used to be called Grassy Gap), but no Trilliums.  It makes no sense!

trail junction sign in Trillium Gap

From here it's just another 0.4 miles up to the summit of Brushy Mountain along a very deeply rutted trail.  Brushy Mountain is cool because it's a heath bald - no tall trees, just lots of heath plants like Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurels, Sand Myrtles, etc.  So the views from the top are great!

view to the south from the summit of Brushy Mountain

I stayed up top for about a half hour soaking in the sun, snacking & drinking, and resting my feet.  It took me right at 3 hours to go the 5.9 miles up - not bad considering the elevation gain and lots of stops to take flower pictures.  It took about 2 hours to make the return trip down.

Brushy Mountain is always worth the trip, no matter which way you choose to come up.  The views from the top are awesome, and it's a unique habitat that makes the visit even more interesting.  The Brushy Mountain trail itself is nice.  It's in fairly good shape, and for the most part not terrible rocky or rooty (although there are some sections that are).  There were several down trees, but none that made the trail impassible.  The sections near Trillium Branch, and as you approach Trillium Gap are both good for wildflowers and quite pleasant.

So all in all it was a good day - hey, it was a spring day in the Smokies!  Of course it was a good day!  

Til next time, happy hiking!


  1. Great post. I stumbled onto your blog b/c I am in town in Knoxville this week for some hiking and seeing friends. We just hiked Brushy Mtn. I read your post and suddenly realized you were my genetics professor at UT a few years ago! Glad to see another Vol up in the mountains. I actually hiked to AT after I graduated. What an experience ( Anyways, happy trails and good luck with your completion of GSMNP trails.

    1. holy cow! what a small world! thanks for taking the time to comment. congratulations on graduating and finishing up the AT. I've long dreamed of thru-hiking... One of these days. I'll have to go back and read your blog now! Good luck with the move to Memphis and the wedding. And keep on hiking!

    2. duh... just realized your last blog was from 2011, so you're probably already married, etc. hope things are going well!