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Trip Report: Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

February 14, 2011

This four night trip with a group of new friends is the one that really got the boys and me excited about backpacking while they are still young.  The combination of friends that love the outdoors and are patient with kids, the mild weather, and the beautiful and varied terrain made for a great experience.  Thanks to Bryan G. for these pictures (I did not take a camera on this trip.)

Where:
The 7,000 acre Panthertown Valley is located just northeast of Cashiers, NC and northwest of Lake Toxaway.  A few miles from Highway 64, one can access parking areas on the eastern or western edges of the valley.  Both parking areas are dirt, and less than “well maintained,” but, with some common sense, you can arrive and park most mini-vans and certainly any truck or SUV.  The paved roads that lead to both parking areas, are very curvy so mind anyone who gets car sick easily…leave adequate time for the last few miles to the parking area.  This web page has good directions for driving to either side of the valley from Highway 64.  (Note that during our visits in 2010, the parking at both locations was better than the older description on that site.)

Down in the valley, the trails are well marked, but this area can be very confusing due to the interlinking trails and lack of high vantage points.  A copy of this map is highly recommended.  Use of a compass is a plus but not really necessary because the trails are so abundant and well marked today. (You’ll hear old-timers talk about how poorly the trails are marked, but that is no longer true.)

When:
Our trip was July 8-11, 2010, a Thursday night through Sunday afternoon.  The weather was some of the hottest for this area, but I think 87F was probably the hottest we experienced.  The humidity was uncomfortably high making us appreciate the frequent swimming hole breaks.  Our coldest morning was 53F, but everyday it was comfortably warm by 9:30 AM.  A big plus for this time period was ripe blue berries, especially along the sunny rock faces of Little Green Mtn.

Positives:

  • The hiking trails are abundant and most are easy hiking for little ones. Some of the climbs are tough, but they are not that long.  The hikes on the valley floor are nearly flat.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to play in the water since waterfalls, pools, and wading areas abound.
  • Campsites are pretty abundant.  Since they are not shown on the maps, here are some to mark…
    • immediately downstream of Schoolhouse Falls…but this area can be crowded since the falls are very popular in warm weather
    • atop Little Green Mtn – my favorite because of the views (and blueberries in July), but you will have to bring enough water up from Schoolhouse Falls since there is no spring near this site
    • at Riding Ford Falls – tucked in the Rhododendron to your left as you step into the river and look upstream…almost hidden like the “Bat Cave” but big enough for 4 or more tents
    • several at the junction of Panthertown Valley trail(#474) and Powerline Rd trail (#451)
    • just north of the junction of Mac’s Gap trail (#482) and the Granny Burrell Falls trail (#488) – a beautiful, flat pine grove with tons of space for tents
    • around the giant camp shelter at the junction of the Granny Burrell Falls trail (#488) and the Great Wall trail (#489) – this site is sometimes used by local summer camps
    • several large sites are found along the Mac’s Gap trail (#482) between its western junction with Granny Burrell trail (#488) and its eastern junction with the Green Valley trail (#484)
    • there are many others, but these are the best I have seen.
  • The area is not heavily used, but you will usually see folks at the key waterfalls.
  • There are no fees for this area.
  • There are beautiful views to be had, if you are willing to do some climbing…up Little Green or Blackrock.
  • The echoes off of the top of Big Green, above the Great Wall trail are fun, but be warned the look-offs on top of Big Green are slim to none and very dangerous.
  • This valley is the headwaters of the Tuckaseegee River that, downstream, flows very wide through Bryson City, NC….it all starts in the Appalachian bogs of  this valley.
  • Waterfalls, waterfalls…not all very big, but lots of them.

Negatives:

  • In the summer, it’s very humid in the valley floor.  We sweated a lot when climbing with our packs.  Be patient with the little ones.
  • We experienced some mosquitoes at the Big Shelter, but nowhere else.
  • We had to manage short pants carefully to keep some dry for mornings since we were constantly swimming.  (We kept wet ones hanging on the outside of our packs and would change back into them just before going in for each swim.)
  • The water is all stained with tannins like green tea from the stagnant vegetation of the bogs…not really a negative unless you have a weak stomach.  (IT IS SAFE, but it looks strange)  Even after filtering, it retains a slight green tint.
  • We had one mild storm that lasted about 2 hours. Fortunately, we had just set up camp so we all relaxed in our shelters and chatted with our kids while the storm rained itself out.
  • As mentioned above, there is some risk to getting turned around, but you will be fine as long as you have your map.

This area is my number one recommendation for locals to backpack with their kids when the weather is mild.  I like it best when the leaves are coming off or are fully off of the trees because there are more views as you hike.  So, as always, please ask questions, then plan this trip and get out there with your kids.

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One Comment
  1. Bryan permalink

    Hey, nice report! Panthertown is a great spot. I agree maps are very helpful in Panthertown. If you use the map linked above in the report, copy the PDF to a flash drive, and take it to a local printer (e.g., OfficeMax). They can print on larger paper for about $1 or $2. Much easier to read, in color, and better than a home-printing job on regular sized paper. Another useful map, but costs about $12, can be found here:

    http://www.slickrockexpeditions.com/map_request.htm

    This one has a little more detail and shows some unofficial trails.

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