The Panthertown Valley is one of those unique places that are well revered by hiking and outdoor enthusiasts, as well as ecologists, in the Southern Appalachian mountains. The valley contains a network of hiking trails that travel to a variety of popular destinations within this 6700 acre tract of high-elevation Forest Service land.
At least 8 major waterfalls and countless smaller ones lie along the area’s streams. You’ll also find hikes that take you to cliff-top views of the surrounding mountains, or to sandy beaches on deep, clear swimming holes. Bring a picnic to your favorite hangout spot on one of these beaches, or perhaps to a cliff-top view where you can supplement it with a handful of wild blueberries. All this is available on the trails of Panthertown!
Greenland Creek and Panthertown Creek are the area’s main waterways, which join to form the Tuckaseegee river. It flows out of the area through gorges with colorful names such as “Devil’s Elbow” and (on another fork) “Bonas Defeat”. In contrast with the typical “V” shaped valleys of these mountains, the Panthertown area (generally south of Flatrock Mountain and north of Hogback Mountain) is actually composed of several finger-like valleys that are nearly level at the bottom, flanked on three sides by sheer slopes and granite domes. And in those valleys, streams are slow and lazy, with some areas that look more like they belong down on the coastal plain, than at 3600′ elevation in the mountains.
Rare, high-altitude mountain bogs lie along the streams in places, where fallen leaves steep in the water for days before the it finally trickles into the streams, staining the otherwise crystal-clear pools like tea. Rare plants grow both in the bogs and on top of the granite domes – environmental extremes, to say the least.
Forests in the area are varied, and contain a high concentration of mountain laurel and rhododendron thickets near the water. This isn’t really unusual for Western North Carolina but the “laurel hells” here can be exceptionally thick! The area is in what the Forest Service calls “Management Area 5”, which means its emphasis is to provide “large blocks of backcountry where there is little evidence of other humans or human activities other than recreation use in a near primitive setting”. What this means is that timber production is not allowed, so the area will be able to return to a natural state. (See History below for more about that). Some areas North of the main Panthertown valley are open to limited timber harvest, but they are not in the area where most people visit.