This is an extension of the trail report about the Panthertown Trail System in Nantahala National Forest from a previous post. When we explored Panthertown last November, we knew very little about it and kind of fumbled our way along the myriad of trails. Since, we have studied the trail system map and had a plan that included going to the top of Big Green Mountain, a sight we missed before. This hike occurred on Friday, June 24, 2011 beginning at 10:00AM and ending about 2:45PM. Our plan was to start at the Cold Mountain Gap entrance and take the Panthertown Valley Trail to Schoolhouse Falls, then up and over Little Green Mountain, and on through the evergreen forest along Mac’s Gap Trail. From there we would take the Great Wall Trail beneath Big Green Mountain and then climb Big Green and return to Cold Mountain Gap.
Hike Length: 8 miles Hike Duration: 4.75 hours
Hike Rating: Moderate Blaze: No blaze, semi-marked trails
Elevation Gain: 1600 feet Hike Configuration: Loop Maze
Trail Condition: Excellent Starting Point: Cold Mountain Gap
Trail Traffic: We saw two other groups of hikers on this day.
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.
Most of this hike has already been covered here, so there’s no sense being redundant. What I will talk about is the one section of trail I had not been on before, the climb from the Great Wall Trail to the top of Big Green Mountain. There were some differences in appearance along the trails in Panthertown from November to June, so I’ve posted some new photos below. You can compare the leafless trees of the Fall to the bright greens of early summer.
If you’ve never been to Panthertown before, the Great Wall is the western face of Big Green Mountain. It is a sheer granite wall that stands roughly 400 feet above the valley floor and goes for nearly a mile. At the eastern end of the Great Wall Trail that parallels the cliff, the trail begins a steep climb along the ridge to the long summit that stretches the length of Big Green. Apparently the Forest Service has hired Trail Dynamics to enhance this section of trail. Frankly, I’m not impressed. They have skinned the trail completely down to the dirt and it is now a muddy mess. There is one particularly steep section that climbs across granite, and they have taken rock cutting power tools and carved steps into the surface of the granite. I thought the idea was to leave no trace that man has been around. I was very surprised at what the Forest Service has allowed.
The Great Wall Trail climbs to a T with the Big Green Trail. The left, or westerly direction continues the climb up the Big Green ridge. We were surrounded by a very, very thick rhododendron and laurel forest for the entire length of the ridge. Our timing was a little off though. The pink catawba rhodies bloomed a few weeks ago, and the white rhododenron were just beginning to pop out of their buds. There were a few in full bloom that were a sensual delight.
After about 20 minutes of steady, but gradual, climbing we got to the first fork… one of what would turn out to be a total maze of false trails and endless choices. False trails are everywhere on top of Big Green. It is very much a nuisance. You take the right fork and 200 feet later it forks, then 200 feet later, it forks again. We tried our best to choose the correct path by compass and by elevation. We knew we didn’t want to go down, and we knew the ridge ran in a WNW direction. Common sense still didn’t help. We wandered around for half an hour before we finally found a trail that popped out onto the rim above the Great Wall. The view was very nice across the valley, but nothing compared to the summit of Little Green Mountain, as evidenced by the picture at the top of this post.
I’m not at all crazy about bushwhacking, but being Meanderthals we decided to dip and duck, twist and slide our way through the rhododendron thickets to stay along the rim’s edge. After about 10-15 minutes we managed to find another outcropping with similar views to the previous. Not surprisingly, we both noticed that the other was bleeding; me on the back of my hand, and him from his arm. There were a few blackberry sticker bushes mixed in with the rhodos, so I suspect that was the nature of our wounds. Sense finally hit us like a sledge and we decided this was probably the best we were going to find on Big Green.
When we completed the hike and were back at the car, we concluded that Little Green is definitely the highlight of the Panthertown Trail System. Big Green left me with a taste of disappointment. Perhaps I will try it again sometime in the winter when I am able to see through all the thickets and get a better idea of what is real trail and what is false trail. It is certainly very frustrating during full foliage season as you cannot see anything but the trail. Perhaps the trail volunteers who know the area like the back of their hand will do some work to block some of the false trails to make it easier for first time visitors. I love the Panthertown Trail System, but I will pass on the Big Green Trail.