What better way to spend a 30-degree Christmas day than on the trails, right? That’s how I spent my 2014 Christmas: exploring the Panther Creek Falls trail in Habersham County. Don’t get this trail confused with the Panther Creek trail in the Cohutta Wilderness. This hike takes you under, over, and even through rock faces as it works its way through the forest to a scenic waterfall at the end of the trail. The beauty of this trail makes it a popular spot, so you will undoubtedly see other hikers on the trail. The total distance of the hike is 6.8 miles there-and-back (3.4 miles each way) and is considered moderate.
Directions to the trailhead: Take US 441 to the sign for Panther Creek Trailhead. Turn on to Glenn Hardeman Road, and drive a short distance before turning right onto Historic Old US 441. Drive 1 mile, then turn left into the signed parking area on Forest Road 174. The Trail Starts on the opposite side of the road from the parking area.
After leaving the parking area and crossing over the road, enter the woods with Panther Creek on your right. Soon you will pass under a double bridge on the 441 highway. Keep moving forward and enter a power-line clearing at 0.5 mile. As you continue your trek, you will begin to notice spacious campsites along the river. Eventually the trail will take you under rock overhangs before dropping over ledges and entering a narrow chute.
At 1.4 miles, the trail will rejoin Panther Creek. You will cross two bridges at 1.9 and 2.1 miles. Eventually the trail enters heavy woods and then meets a rock wall. As you progress, the path moves through the stone wall next to installed wire safety railing. After this point, the trail and surrounding gorge become increasingly more scenic and rugged.
At 3.2 miles you will see a spur trail on the right, a shortcut to the falls. The main path switchbacks down and emerges onto a rock platform that provides a pretty great view of the cascades above.
Continue down the main trail, descending the rocky path to the falls at 3.4 miles. This is a must-see waterfall for southeast hiking enthusiasts, and an exceptional place to have a snack and drink some coffee on a cold Christmas day.
Hopefully this post was helpful to all interested in exploring this fantastic trail. Enjoy the hike, take a swim (if it’s warm enough), leave no trace, and be safe.