view of Panthertown Valley from Salt Rock Gap
Over the last few years, visitors to my site have been asking what ever became of Carlton McNeill, unofficial trail builder and keeper of Panthertown Valley. Carlton loved Panthertown and loved spending time talking with all who were fortunate enough to meet him. He lived in a small house (that's no longer there) by the side of the road on the left just before the right turn into the drive for the east side parking area for the Valley. I'm very sad to report that Carlton passed away on July 20, 2007 at 86 years old. As you enter Panthertown Valley, let Carlton's spirit be your guide and remember these words from one of Carlton's favorite poems - House by the Side of the Road by Sam Foss
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran -
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
12-1-16 Panthertown Valley is a 6700 acre piece of hiking Nirvana in the Nantahala National Forest in Jackson and Transylvania Counties. It's been nicknamed 'the Yosemite of the East' and is home to granite domes, waterfalls, valley floors, and rare high altitude bogs. The headwaters for Greenland and Panthertown Creeks and the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River are in Panthertown Valley. The area is a maze of trails going off in every direction. Thanks to Friends of Panthertown, some trails are now marked with the standard brown carsonite trail signs used by the Forest Service. Only the newly designated Forest Service trails will have signs, but that still leaves many unmarked trails. If you want to really do some exploring here, you will need a trail map and a compass. Until recently, the only trail map that was available was through Slickrock Expeditions. Slickrock's owner Burt Kornegay is a renowned wilderness outfitter and guide. He has just released an updated version of his map which includes the new forest service trails and many of the older trails that won't be on the official forest service map. The map is $12 and is now printed on waterproof paper. You can order it here, or it is also available at local area outfitters and book stores. The map also has other waterfalls in the surrounding Big Pisgah area like Dismal, Flat Creek and others, but these waterfalls are not in Panthertown Valley. They are on National Forest lands and are covered on other pages on my site. If you would like the forest service trail map, you can click here to download the map in PDF form. There are also maps posted on the entrance kiosks so you can snap a photo before you begin your hike.
A few years ago, the Forest Service began planning and is now implementing the Panthertown Trails Project. Some of the plans include trail repair and improvement, bridge replacement, signs and trail markers (yeah!), and parking improvements. The most updated info and happenings on Panthertown Valley can be found at the Friends of Panthertown site. Also check it out to see how you can help the cause.
Mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed in Panthertown. You will need the online Forest Service map to see which trails these activities are allowed on. Primitive camping is also allowed and the national forest rules apply. Refer to the Forest Service map to help with the following directions. If you are coming in from the west entrance, follow the Panthertown Valley Trail #474 for 1/2 to 3/4 miles, and take a right on Mac's Gap Trail #482. You'll know you are on the right trail when you cross a bridge over Panthertown Creek after about 1/4 mile. Cross the bridge and take a right on the Great Wall Trail #489. Follow it for about 1/2 mile - passing Granny Burrell Falls - to the shelter just west of Big Green Mountain. There are a few more sites past the shelter along the trail next to Panthertown Creek on the left side of the trail. If you are coming in from the east, head down the Panthertown Valley Trail #474 towards Schoolhouse Falls. Keep straight past the new hitching post cable thing on the left and the Devil's Elbow Trail #448 to the right, and cross the newly constructed bridge over Greenland Creek. Continue generally west down the main trail. In less than 10 minutes at an average pace, cross another bridge and take the Powerline Road Trail #451 to the right. A small stand of pines on the left and right provide a level camping area for several people. There are quite a few more sites scattered around Panthertown and I don't want to give away all of the good spots. Just remember, there is no camping allowed within 50 feet of a stream or river.
The valley was heavily logged in the 30's and suffered majors fires and erosion in the 60's, so there are almost no old growth trees left. Despite this and Duke Power running a major power lane through the area in the late 80's, Panthertown Valley has made a comeback and is now home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the carnivorous roundleaf sundew. Some of the plants are rare, so please stick to the trails, don't trample vegetation, and try to avoid the moss and lichens growing on the rock faces in the higher altitudes. In 1989, the land was purchased from Duke Power by the NC Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and added as part of the Nantahala National Forest - Highlands Ranger District. In September '03, Panthertown Valley was officially designated the James and Elspeth Clarke Forest. Democrat Clarke served 3 terms in the US House of Representatives and led the 1987-88 effort to obtain funding to transfer Panthertown Valley to the US Forest Service.
white version of the Pink Lady Slipper
I've hiked in this area many times now and will never get tired of going back. There are 2 main entrances to the valley as mentioned above. To gain access from the east side, take NC281 north from US64 a mile or so then veer off to left onto Cold Mountain Road. A fire station will be on your right. Cold Mountain Road winds past Lake Toxaway where the rich folk live. Just past most of the homes the road used to be gravel as it climbed up the mountain, but it was paved a few years ago. Unfortunately, as the land was scraped, wildflowers were lost including a nice population of Yellow Fringed Orchids. 3.9 miles up the Cold Mountain Rd on the right you will see a small waterfall called Shower Falls. It tends to be a trickle in dry weather. If you look at the telephone poles on the way up you will see small numbers on some of them. Just past pole #61 on the left - 4.5 miles from 281 - you can park and follow a trail down to Raven Rock Falls. The trailhead is past the pole and it's well worth the 1/2 mile or so hike.
Keep going up Cold Mountain and at 5.7 miles total you'll see Canaan Land - a religious retreat - on the right. The road straight ahead is now gated and private (the old entrance), but you take a left and head up the gravel road a very short distance. Carlton's house used to be on the left after the turn, but has been taken down. The entrance to Panthertown is on the right after the turn off of Cold Mountain Rd and there is now a nice new parking area! There is also now a sign right past the turn into the parking area saying that straight ahead is private Lake Toxaway Estates property. Just as you turn right, notice a trail on the left that will take you towards Greenland Creek Falls. Other trail heads are at the end of the parking lot. There is now a kiosk with a copy of the new forest service trail map. Land to the right side of the lot is private Canaan Land property and is posted. Please do not trespass.
Access from the west side is reached by driving 8 miles on US64 west from the NC281 south intersection to Cedar Creek Road. Take a right, go 2.3 miles and take a right on Breedlove Road, then almost 4 miles to the parking area. Near the end, the road changes to dirt and has some pretty major bumps and dips. On my latest visit, this part was really muddy and a 2 wheel drive vehicle might have had problems getting the last 1/4 mile to the end. If you aren't sure or don't want to get your vehicle dirty, there's room to park at the end of the pavement and you can just walk the rest of the way. If you are coming from Cashiers, drive east on US64 for about 2 miles from the stop light and turn left on Cedar Creek Rd.
You can also access some of the trails in Panthertown from Rock Bridge Rd off of NC281 near the Transylvania / Jackson County line, but this isn't the best way to access the waterfalls. Check out Burt's map for more details. These trails are definitely worth exploring!
You can click below to see a particular falls or area of Panthertown. You can access everything from either parking area, you will just have to walk a couple of miles or so farther if what you want to see is in the opposite end of the valley. The main trail through Panthertown is the Panthertown Valley Trail #474 and connects both parking areas. It's 3.25 miles in length.
Greenland Creek - this area is best accessed from the Cold Mountain Road (east) entrance - it includes Greenland Creek Falls, Carlton Falls, and Schoolhouse Falls
another Greenland Creek hike - same parking area, but a different trail to a section of Greenland Creek with Mac's and Pothole Falls plus 2 other smaller waterfalls and Schoolhouse Falls
Tuckasegee River - this area is best accessed from the Cold Mountain Road (east) entrance - here are Warden's Falls, Jawbone Falls and Riding Ford Falls. You could spend half a day here easily.
Devil's Elbow - this area is also on the Tuck and is below Riding Ford Falls. It includes Elbow, Red Butt, and Lichen Falls - allow a half to full day to enjoy this beautiful area
The West Entrance - this entrance is closer to Granny Burrell and Frolictown Creek Falls as well as the views from Blackrock and Big Green Mountains.