Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area is part of the Nantahala National Forest, located in Jackson County between Lake Toxaway and Cashiers (near US Highway 64). This area is sometimes referred to as the "Yosemite of the East." Find granite rock domes with 300-ft. cliffs, deep gorges, broad valleys, bogs, trout streams and many waterfalls. Explore 30 miles of maintained and marked trails where you can hike, bike or ride a horse. Many of the trails follow old logging roads with spectacular overlooks. It's about 55 miles southwest of Asheville (allow 1.5 hours to drive).
The Panthertown Valley area lies on the eastern continental divide in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. The headwaters of the Tuckaseegee River and the east fork of Little Tennessee River create biologically diverse habitats for wildlife and rare plants. Panthertown is designated as a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
Camping is permitted with campsites dotted along trails, but groups are limited to no more than 12 people per site. No commercial equestrian or mountain bike outfitter/guides are permitted. The wonderful volunteer group, Friends of Panthertown (read about them below), protects and maintains the public trails in Panthertown Valley spread out over 6,300 acres.
See below for hikes to see some of the many waterfalls in Panthertown Valley.
Greenland Creek Falls
Hike: Schoolhouse Falls / Little Green Mountain Loop (5 miles)
There are many hiking choices in Panthertown Valley. We created this loop hike by connecting four trails. There are many loop options! This hike takes you to two popular waterfalls and the top of Little Green Mountain with beautiful mountain views. IMPORTANT: While trails are marked, you can easily miss the blazes or trail markers if you are not paying attention. There are many side trails - avoid them so you won't get lost. Take a map or print the one for this hike below. Save JPEG of full map to your phone.
- To start your hike, go to the end of the Cold Mountain Gap parking area and begin the hike to the right of the kiosk with the trail map on it. This will take you to the main Pantertown Valley Trail #474. You'll go downhill to the old logging road, and it's an easy hike with a gradual descent. You'll pass the Devil's Elbow Trail on the right. This section is about a mile.
- Turn left on Little Green Trail #485. This follows the creek for a few minutes up to the base of 20-ft. Schoolhouse Falls cascading into a beautiful pool. It's a great swimming hole and picnic spot! Take bug spray in case you need. Read more about Schoolhouse Falls.
- After enjoying the waterfall, continue on Little Green Trail (green blazes) up to the summit of Little Green Mountain (elevation 4,040 ft). You will quickly climb about 600 ft. in elevation here to exposed sections of granite with many spots for great views. The largest exposed area is called Tranquility Point - another great spot for a picnic! Following the trail across the summit can be tricky on the expanse of granite. Be sure to follow the green blazes on trees or the faint white arrows on the rock under your feet. You'll go through several open areas before the trail descends on the other side. There are many side trails up here that lead to camping spots. Look for a green blaze (metal rectangle nailed to a tree) to make sure you head down the mountain on the correct trail.
- At the intersection of Mac's Gap Trail #482, turn left (red blazes) and go about a mile across a ridge to Greenland Creek (wet crossing). It's shallow and the bottom is covered with smooth stones. Pull off your shoes and walk across (nice refreshment for the hiking feet). Some of the rocks can be slippery, so be careful.
- Just on the other side of the creek, turn right onto Greenland Creek Trail and take the winding, skinny trail through rhododendron to the 60-ft. Greenland Creek Falls. At the end, you climb over some big rocks and fallen trees to get a great view.
- Return to Mac's Gap Trail and continue straight about a mile to the Cold Mountain Gap parking area where you parked, completing your loop.
The Panthertown Valley Trail main trail (3.3 miles) runs through the valley from the Cold Mountain (East) entrance to the Salt Rock (West) entrance. Since there are many intersecting trails, there are many possibilities for a loop hike. It's an easy trail to walk with gentle climbs. Download a hiking map.
Salt Rock Gap provides excellent views of the entire Panthertown Valley area from its rock face, including dome-like faces of Big Green Mountain Summit and Little Green Mountain. It's only about 1/4-mile from the West Entrance parking.
From the Overlook Trail, there are spectacular 180-degree views of Big and Little Green Mountains, and the entire Panthertown Valley, from the open summit of Blackrock Mountain. Can be made into a loop with the Blackrock, Panthertown Valley and Powerline Road trails.
Waterfall Hike: Two Mile Loop on West Side
See two waterfalls on this two-mile loop from the West Entrance for Panthertown Valley.
- Follow Panthertown Valley Trail #474 downhill from the gate. In about 1/4-mile, stop at Salt Rock Gap on the left and venture out on the rock face to see views of the valley.
- Return to the trail and continue about 1/3-mile to Deep Gap Trail #449 on the right.
- In another 1/3-mile, the Great Wall Trail #489 forks to the left. Keep to your RIGHT on Deep Gap Trail for 1/10-mile to Frolictown Falls.
- At the falls, Wilderness Falls Trail goes to the right. At that intersection, a side trail to the left takes you to the base of Frolictown Falls nestled in a beautiful setting.
- From Frolictown Falls, climb back to the main trail and head straight across on Wilderness Falls Trail. About 1/3-mile up that trail, you'll see Wilderness Falls to the left.
- There are several side trails that take you to the falls for a closer view. Be careful since this side trails can be slippery!
- Continue up the steep trail by the falls and hike mostly uphill back to Panthertown Valley Trail (about 1/2-mile past Wilderness Falls). This is a narrow trail that is difficult to follow at times - watch for occasionally green blazes, mostly uphill.
- Turn left on Panthertown Valley Trail to return to your car.
- Save JPEG of the full map to your phone. Download a PDF of trails map.
Very Brief History
Panthertown is here for us to enjoy and preserve thanks to the NC Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, who purchased 6,295 acres of the valley from Duke Power in 1989.
Directions: East Entrance (Cold Mountain Gap)
(GPS 35.157843, -82.998909)
From Asheville, take US Highway 64 West toward Brevard and Lake Toxaway. Near Lake Toxaway turn right onto NC Highway 281 North for 8/10-mile to "Cold Mountain Road" on your left (just past Lake Toxaway Fire Station). Drive Cold Mountain Road about six miles up the mountain. It becomes gravel near the end. At a sharp left turn, a sign will indicate the Panthertown parking is just ahead. (56 miles from downtown Asheville)
Directions: West Entrance (Salt Rock Gap)
From the main intersection of US Highway 64 and NC Highway 107 in Cashiers. take US 64 East (towards Brevard) for 2 miles to "Cedar Creek Road" on your left (crossing the Horsepasture River). Take Cedar Creek Road for 2.3 miles to Breedlove Road on your right. Travel 3.3 miles to the end of the pavement for Breedlove Rd. Either park at the cul-de-sac or continue on the short gravel/mud road to the main parking area.
There are no facilities, ranger offices or visitor centers at Panthertown. For questions, contact the Nantahala Ranger District in Franklin at 828-524-6441.
Friends of Panthertown
This hard-working volunteer group provides and raises funds for conservation projects in Panthertown Valley. They work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve this outstanding natural resource while improving the quality and experience of recreational opportunities in Panthertown Valley. They have monthly work days, foster environmental stewardship through outreach and education, restore and maintain 30 miles of public non-motorized trails, construct trail-head facilities, repair bridges and existing structures, protect natural resources and monitor fragile ecosystems. Go to their website.