Panthertown Valley lies in Nantahala National Forest near Cashiers and Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. The Forest Service, along with the Friends of Panthertown, have created a trail system in combination with old logging roads that lead to waterfalls, cliffs, bogs, deep forest and spectacular overlooks of the surrounding valley. Panthertown has been designated a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. This hike occurred on November 18, 2010 beginning at 9:00AM and ending about 3:00PM. We did not have a particular hike itinerary because only one of our trio had ever been to Panthertown before, and he for only a short visit. The plan was to study the trail system map on the sign board at the trailhead, and go from there.
Hike Length: 9.7 miles Hike Duration: 6 hours
Hike Rating: Moderate Blaze: No blaze, semi-marked trails
Elevation Gain: 1200 feet Hike Configuration: Loop Maze
Trail Condition: Excellent Starting Point: Cold Mountain Gap
Trail Traffic: We saw two other hikers on this trail the entire duration.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC on US 64, take NC 281 0.7 mile north. Go past the Lake Toxaway fire station. Turn left (north) on Cold Mountain Road and continue 6.0 miles. When the road ends (Canaan Land will be straight ahead) bear left on a gravel road. Then turn right on the first gravel road to reach the trailhead parking area. The trailhead is just to the right of the gate and sign board.
We arrived at the eastern entry point, Cold Mountain Gap. You can also access Panthertown from the west, at Salt Rock Gap. As luck would have it, we got a terrific break when we arrived at the trailhead. A local resident, who had been hiking the Panthertown area since even before it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy, happened to arrive at the same time we did. He was a wealth of information. He recommended a route for us that would be good exercise, as well as scenic and entertaining. Then he told us a couple bear stories. We run the risk of encountering black bear pretty much everywhere we hike, but our new friend’s personal experiences were a good reminder to stay on our toes.
He recommended we take Mac’s Gap Trail 482 to the Panthertown Valley Trail 474, then turn left to cross Little Green Mountain on trail 485. The trail across the mountain is almost a mile, and climbs about 800 feet. On the other side is a continuation of Mac’s Gap Trail. Stay on it for about two miles until reaching the Great Wall Trail 489 that goes past Granny Burrell Falls and an old hunting shelter. That’s what he suggested. Everything after that was ad lib on our part. Past the shelter, the trail parallels the Great Wall cliff face of Big Green Mountain for a mile and a half. The Big Green Trail 487 connects with Mac’s Gap on the eastern end and returns to the beginning, but instead we backtracked to the shelter. From there we hit Granny Burrell Falls Trail 486 to Deep Gap Trail 449 and its continuation as the North Road 453. We then turned on Powerline Road 451 to return to Cold Mountain Gap.
One thing to beware of is the private land that is adjacent to the Panthertown Trail System. Particularly at the start, make sure you stay on the trail, otherwise you may end up unintentionally trespassing. About 1.3 miles into the hike, we came upon Schoolhouse Falls, kind of hidden back in an alcove off the trail. We found it on the left just before we got to the Little Green trail junction. The trail over Little Green is moderately steep. We climbed through beautiful rhododendron thickets and stands of spruce. I suspect this area is truly lovely during prime blossoming season in June. The summit of Little Green is one large mossy granite slab, like a lot of the mountains in western North Carolina. The photo at the start of this post is one of the many views from the top of Little Green. I had a complaint about the trail system while on Little Green. Instead of carsonite trail markers or blaze dots, the granite is spray painted with directional arrows. Perhaps these are remnants from a time before the Forest Service protected the land.
The next 1.5 mile stretch on Mac’s Gap Trail 482 was one of the most pleasant parts of the hike. It is very flat, and very straight, and very soft and cushiony from years of pine needles settling on the trail. The trail is surrounded by a thick pine forest in every direction. There are several excellent camp sites on either side of the trail. This is a good connector trail for the features on the east and west sides of Panthertown Valley. Near the western end of Mac’s Gap we turned left on the Great Wall Trail 489 for a view of Granny Burrell Falls, a slide-type waterfall. I suspect this is a very popular spot on hot summer weekends.
By now it was getting time for lunch, so we began looking for the old hunting shelter. Sure enough, not far past Granny Burrell there it was, and with a great long log for all of us to sit on. I imagine this forest is alive with the sound of songbirds in the warm weather months. On this day, it was a beautiful spot for lunch.
Next up we walked for a mile alongside the Great Wall, a sheer cliff of nearly 300 feet on the west side of Big Green Mountain. The length of this cliff is breathtaking. We were also taken by the fact that you probably could not even see it from the trail except in late fall or winter when the leaves are off the trees. It would be a shame to not know that magnificent rock is there. By this point, we were kinda off on our own, beyond the trail recommendations made to us way back at the parking area. If you keep following the Great Wall Trail 489, it eventually forks, with the left climbing to the Big Green summit, and the right meeting back with the eastern end of Mac’s Gap Trail 482. Since we didn’t know that, we turned around, and returned to the hunting shelter.
The Deep Gap Trail 449 and North Road 453 is a long, flat slog of 2.7 miles to the Powerline Road 451. There are a couple of creek crossings, one that you may have to take your shoes off after a heavy rain. When we reached the Powerline Road it more or less followed Greenland Creek for another mile. This is an area of mountain bog that Panthertown is known for. In spring and summer, the bogs are full of wildflowers. We had heard the trails aren’t marked very well in Panthertown, and that it’s easy to get lost. Particularly on top of Big Green there are apparently a lot of false trails. The Forest Service and the Friends of Panthertown seem to be doing a good job of improving trail junction awareness. On this day, we had no problems. We all agreed when we came to the end of this day’s hike, it was a very enjoyable place and we will definitely be back to explore Panthertown again during a different season.