Panthertown Valley -- West Side Waterfall Loop (5-13-17)
Panthertown Valley, part of the Nantahala National Forest, is 10,000 acres of some of the finest natural beauty the southern Appalachians has to offer. This high elevation valley boasts dozens of waterfalls and mountains which contain some of the highest cliff faces in the region. All but unknown a decade ago the area has now lost its 'hidden gem' status but still provides enough rugged backcountry to keep it from feeling overcrowded. The most difficult aspect of visiting the valley is deciding just where to go. Every trail provides access to some sort of natural wonder so return trips are mandatory if you want to experience all that Panthertown has to offer. The hike featured in this album would be a good one for those looking to visit the major waterfalls of the valleys western side. This collection of pleasant cascades all have the benefit as well of having good trail leading to them, unlike some that you will find in Panthertown. Also, as a bonus, there are some nice vistas to be had to close out the loop from the cliffs just below Salt Rock Gap.
The hike begins from the Salt Rock Gap Parking Area, which serves as the western access point for Panthertown Valley. At the far end of the lot the wide Panthertown Valley Trail enters the forest. This is the beginning and ending point for the hike. A few minutes down the trail the Wilderness Falls Trail departs to the right. This path, much less used than the Panthertown Valley Trail descends past the first waterfall of the hike, Wilderness Falls, before reaching the waters of Frolictown Creek. At Frolictown Creek the Wilderness Trail meets the Deep Gap Trail. Turning left on the Deep Gap Trail a few feet a short scramble path on the right will take you to the base of beautiful Frolictown Falls. From Frolictown I'd keep following the Deep Gap Trail north for a short time and then turning onto the Great Wall Trail. The Great Wall Trail is another wide gentle trail which crosses Panthertown Creek just before arriving at a huge old A-frame hunting shelter. I made a quick stop to see the shelter and then turned north on the Granny Burrell Falls Trail which is just a few feet east of the Panthertown Creek crossing. The Granny Burrell Trail is the most rugged of the trails used on this loop. It's easy to follow but its choked with roots, the rhodo canopy will keep you hunched over, and its frequently muddy. That said, the trail is necessary if you want to visit Granny Burrell Falls, as I did. Granny Burrell isn't the most spectacular cascade but its long sliding veil of water is pretty in its own way and at its base is one of the finest swimming holes in Panthertown if you visit in the summer. From Granny Burrell I'd close the loop by climbing back out of the valley via the Mac's Gap and, once again, Panthertown Valley Trails. Less than a half mile below the parking area is a small area of open ledges which provide a stunning panorama overlooking the entirety of Panthertown. It's a fantastic finale to the hike.
So, without further adieu I present to you a quick tour of the more easily accessible waterfalls of western Panthertown Valley...and, as always, ENJOY!!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.168203, -83.039668
Mileage Hiked: 3.2 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 3,680' Max. Elevation: 4,100'
Total Vertical Gain: 400' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 125'
Trails Used (blaze color): Deep Gap (unblazed), Granny Burrell Falls (unblazed), Great Wall (unblazed), Mac's Gap (unblazed), Panthertown Valley (unblazed), Wilderness Falls (unblazed)