Went with a friend and my dog Jade and did this unique hike in the Panthertown Valley. Referred to as the Yosemite of the East, features of this particular hike include 300 ft sheer rock faces and amazing views of the Panthertown Valley, Salt Rock Gap, Black Rock Mountain, Balsam Mountains to the North, Big Green Mountain, Cold Mtn, Big Pisgah and more. This is the perfect place to pack some food and have a picnic lunch while taking in the views. Also, you can actually walk behind Schoolhouse Falls and check out the view from behind the waterfall. This hike is a 5.14 mile loop and is rated moderate to difficult. It is highly recommended that you research the Panthertown Valley area before prior to making the trip. Also, you should not make the trip alone or without a map. Panthertown Valley is is extremely remote, and the trail system is unmarked, you can get lost very easily if you don’t know where you’re going. I would suggest downloading and printing this map , find the trail(s) you are interested in and plan out your day accordingly. You need to avoid any side trails you come across (and you’ll come across a lot of them) as they can be misleading.
Directions to the trailhead: From the main intersection of U.S. Hwy 64 and N.C. Hwy 107 in Cashiers, N.C. take Hwy 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 (State Road 1121) on your Right. There will be a sign for Panthertown Valley at the Stop Sign. Take the Right and travel 3.3 miles to the end of the pavement for Breedlove Rd and where the rough, gravel road begins. You can either park here, your car has low clearance, or you can proceed on the rough gravel muddy road to main parking area at entrance to the valley. After you reach the main parking area (via foot- 10 minute walk OR car- 0.25 mile) you’ll come to a Info Kiosk with a map of the valley in it and a gate across the trailhead. Be sure to take a look at the map and find Panthertown Valley Trail #474, Mac’s Gap Trail #482, Little Green Trail #485 and finally back on PVT #474 to make the loop hike back. It might be a good idea to take a picture of the map with your phone as well, just in case.
Start off downhill from the West Parking Area for Panthertown Valley and iron gate on the Pantertown Valley Trail #474 (West) and hike for approximately 5-10 minutes to Salt Rock Gap. Take a moment here to take a picture and survey your ultimate destination, Little Green Mountain. It is directly in front of you (don’t mistake it for Big Green Mountain which is closer to you on the right). Jade was particularly enamored by the view that day.
Keep heading downhill on PV Trail #474 to a noticable intersection with a trail on your Right. This is Deep Gap Trail #449. DO NOT take this trail. Instead, stay straight and keep heading downhill on the wide PV Trail #474 for another 0.25 mile to another intersection, this time a four way. Here, take the trail on the Right, Mac’s Gap Trail #482 for just under 0.3 mile over the creek via bridge to another intersecting trail on your right. This is a short trail that will take you to the Granny Burrell Falls area in approximately 5 minutes. Take this short route for a nice experience. Granny Burrell Falls is a great place to relax, swim (in the summer), or play fetch with a water-loving buddy.
To continue on the hike, return back to Mac’s Gap Trail and go right for approximately 0.9 mile to Little Green Trail #485 (after 0.75 mile you’ll start moving uphill. At this point you’ll need to avoid an obvious intersecting trail on your Left, this is Green Valley Trail #484). Take this left for 0.45 mile up the slightly strenuos segment of the hike to the summit via the built-in stairs on Little Green Trail #485.
Once at the top, explore and take in the views. Be careful, these cliffs demand respect and a fall could be fatal. Take a minute to respectfully investigate the federally endangered rock gnome lichens clinging to the rocks here. Only 33 patches of rock gnome lichens exist in the United States, 26 in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the remainder in eastern Tennessee. The patches typically occupy less than 3 square feet, and that size is shrinking each year. Scientists believe increasing air pollution is the cause of the decline of the rock gnome lichens—filters of pollutants and indicators of air quality. In addition, heavy foot traffic can destroy an entire community.
To continue on your journey, pay attention to white spray painted arrows on the rock, these will tell you how to continue around the summit and down the other side for the remaining 0.5 mile. You might feel lost, but keep working your way around the summit. The trail works around and eventually off the back side of the summit.
Schoolhouse Falls will be on your right once you reach the valley floor again. There’s a nice area near the end of the pool below the falls to hangout and take it all in. You can walk behind the falls by working your way around to the left of the falls.
Once finished here, hike the remaining part of the trail up over the boardwalk to the intersection with Panthertown Valley Trail #474 again.
Making your way back: Once at PV Trail #474, go Left for 0.4 mile and cross Panthertown Creek via the footbridge (avoiding Powerline Road Trail #451 on your Right). Follow the creek for approx. 0.5 mile (avoiding Green Valley Trail #484 on your Left). You are still on PVT #474 as the trail leads you away from the creek and to the four-way intersection you came to earlier, except now Mac’s Gap Trail #482 is on your Left. Continue straight for the remaining 0.8 mile back to the West Entrance Parking area.
Hopefully this post provides more information to those interested in checking out the Panthertown Valley and its many features. Thanks to the folks at www.stayandplayinthesmokies.com (the original source of most of the aforementioned information). Enjoy the hike, leave no trace, and be safe.