Panther Top Mountain is a rather non-descript peak of modest height located in the far western reaches of North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest. Barely topping 2,000-feet in height, Panther Top would be just another tree-covered bump in the forest were it not for the U.S. Forest Service lookout tower built atop it in the 1940's. A wide open field was cut at the summit to accommodate the 40-foot structure at which point Panther Top suddenly sported views virtually unmatched by any nearby peak. To the north and west are the mountain ranges bordering North Carolina and Tennessee, including the Great Smoky Range, while to the south and east are the countless wooded peaks of northern Georgia and the rest of the Nantahala National Forest. The fire tower was operated until quite recently, only closing around a decade ago. Since then its been well maintained, however, and the steps leading up to the old cab are open at all times to hikers who make the short walk to the summit. A few select days each year a handful of volunteers even open up the old cab to visitors providing an even more unique view from Panther Top.
As it turned out, quite without my planning, this just so happened to be one of those days. I was only in the area due to work and had a short window early in the morning for the quick quarter mile walk to the summit. Due to recent rains it ended up being a very foggy morning and my stroll to the top was socked in the entire way...there was nothing to see from the top but a thick grey soup. I waited at the summit for a little while hoping in vain for some clearing when, just as I packed up to leave, an older gentleman in a pickup truck arrived at the top. More than a little surprised, I asked what the occasion was. He informed me that this was one of two weekends this year that the road and tower would be completely open to visitors. What luck! I chatted a while with him and quickly decided that I'd have to make a quick return drive to the top after things had hopefully cleared at the end of my shift. My luck held and, when I did end up returning in the afternoon, skies had cleared beautifully. I made a quick tour of the wonderful old tower and soaked in all the magnificent natural eye-candy offered from the summit. It's great how things work out sometimes...
Overall the visit to Panther Top was a great one, as you can already tell. The hike up from Panther Top Road is an easy one. If, as is likely 361 of 365 days a year, you have to walk to the top the route is wide and fairly easy in difficulty. It's a road after all. The reward for the 1.5-mile effort is far beyond what you'll expend in energy getting there. Though I can't say this is a peak I'd recommend driving all the way to the remote western corner of North Carolina to see, I'd certainly say it's a must-visit if you're already in the area. So, come on along with me as I enjoy a brief visit to one of the most beautiful "little" mountains North Carolina has to offer. Without further adieu I present Panther Top Mountain...as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.063824, -84.108769
Mileage Hiked: 1.5 miles Hike Duration: 0:45
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 1,880' Max. Elevation: 2,293'
Total Vertical Gain: 410' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 547'