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Trip Report: Panther Creek, Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia

January 15, 2011
This was a great trip away from the Christmas rush.  It was fun to test ourselves in some colder conditions.
This trail is located about 15 miles south of Clayton, Georgia just off of Highway 441.  The trailhead and parking are on Old/Historic Highway 441.  The paved parking area across the road from the trailhead is for a large picnic area with composting toilets (that were unlocked and available during our trip).  The parking area requires a $3/ vehicle use fee, and the signage gives the impressionthat overnight use is not allowed.  I spoke with a ranger, and he said that overnight use was prohibited in the picnic area, not on the Panther Creek Trail.  He also said to use the gravel space on the same side of the road as the trailhead, if available, for free overnight parking.  It is across from the main parking area entrance.  This gravel space was large enough for 4 or so cars.

We were there December 18-20, 2010, for two nights out.  I have seen reports of this area being crowded on weekends during the warm months, but we saw only 7 people during our 3 day / 2 night trip on the weekend before Christmas.   I must tell you that I enjoyed this much more than a crowded shopping mall!
Two dads, four young men ages 8, 10, 12 and 13. One hammock, one 2-man tent, and one 3-man tent.  Young kids (approximately 7 and younger) will need close supervision along some sections of the trail with high drops and poor footing.  There are a lot of nice camp sites large enough for 3 to 4 tents.  The river is beautiful along most of the trail, so if your children can’t make the entire trip in to the main falls (3.5 miles), they can still enjoy a nice trip.

– a very scenic river with a sizable waterfall
– no crowds on the weekend before Christmas…very different from warmer seasons
chewable Pepto Bismol tablets in my first aid kit
– quart size freezer bags and “bubble wrap envelope cozies”<link> for easily re-hydrating “death noodles” (ramen noodles with chunks of greasy summer sausage)
– impromptu “spelunking” near the second night’s campsite about 2 miles from the trailhead
– the majority of the trail is flat

– Stove Top Stuffing with chicken – too much of a mushy thing for a main dish
– no extra, dry shoes for around camp in the evening, (after slipping into the creek, we had extra socks, but we needed something like Crocs or slippers for around the camp site while the primary shoes were drying)
– the first three quarter mile of trail is generally downhill (uphill heading out!)
– several places along the trail have hazardous drops and poor footing that will require hand holding for the youngest…keep your kids safe!

Comments from the Kids:
– “the cave was awesome”
– “the waterfall was huge….but not being able to swim due to the cold was a bummer”
– “cheap gloves for mornings and evenings would have been nice”
– “the cheese grits with bacon were awesome” – Quaker instant cheddar cheese grits with real butter and bacon pieces (from the salad toppings aisle)

Plan it, and go visit Panther Creek.  Try to get a trip in before school’s let out for summer break, on a weekday if possible.

Here are more pictures…

One of many beautiful views of the river along the trail.

This was one of several rocky areas along the trail that were a little scary for those less than sure-footed.

The second night’s campsite as the sun was dipping.

A quick shot of Luke and I enjoying the cave.  It was actually big enough for all 6 of us.  It was found just steps from our second camp site about 2.75 miles into the trail.

Also at this second night’s site was a “stand-up kitchen rock.”  Bryan and I agreed that this was the most convenient backcountry kitchen spot we’d ever used.

Bryan is one of those tree hangers (uses a hammock).  He was bundled up tight on the second morning.  His digital thermometer showed 21F when we were getting up.  Notice the frost on the inside of his tarp…frozen respiration.

It was a beautiful morning heading out, back to our cars.  But it was a little tough since it was up hill the entire way out.  We were comfortably tired when we reached our cars….feeling a lot better than if we’d spent a long day Christmas shopping.

As always, please post any questions or comments.

From → Trip Reports

  1. John permalink

    Great trip. I was out there today. Did you notice how eroded the trail is past the steel cable railing? I don’t think I could take my 7 year old out on that ledge. Anyway, looks like you all had a great time. Thanks for the pictures.
    John Staudt
    Clarkesville, GA

    • Scott permalink

      John, thanks for the comment. I have not been to Panther Creek this year, but I do remember some of those traverses being a little hairy! The boys have been exposed to terrain of gradually increasing risk since they were about 3 years old. In the younger years they were allowed to make painful, but minor mistakes, and I think it teaches them to know their limits and mind risks as they grow older. Don’t get me wrong…I still stop them from taking great risks because they are still kids.

      This was a great trip right before Christmas 2010…beat shopping, hands down. Thanks again.


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