Panthertown Valley, located east of Cashiers, North Carolina, is a high-altitude valley (by East Coast standards) that contains and is ringed by tall mountains with several massive granite faces. This unique topography has earned it the title “Yosemite of the East.”
Andrew hiking along the top of the Big Green Mountain cliff.
Contributing to the Yosemite-feel are several granite faces that stretch for thousands of feet along the sides of some of the mountains, with cliffs as high as 300-400 feet. As you can imagine, the views from the top are fantastic! But Panthertown isn’t just a one-trick pony: there are many more natural attractions, including at least 8 major waterfalls, many more minor waterfalls, beautiful streams and rivers, and unique flora and ecosystems.
As a result of all of these things to see and do, this breathtaking valley is an increasingly popular hiking and backpacking destination. Despite the increasing traffic, Panthertown still maintains a very raw, wilderness feel. While it might feel like wilderness, it is technically a part of the Nantahala National Forest. As a result, many of the trails are also open to mountain bikes and some are open to horses, although there is little indication of significant traffic from either.
In my opinion, this is one of the things that truly sets Panthertown apart: there are just so many different ways you can enjoy its wild beauty! While you can always come to hike and backpack, be sure to pack the rock climbing gear, the mountain bike, and the fishing pole too!
The network design of the trail system can make it easy to get lost at times, so bring a map. Most of the main trails are marked on National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #785 and have corresponding USFS trail markers. However, there is veritable spider web of unmarked footpaths branching off the main conduits that generally lead to interesting attractions like cliff access points, waterfalls, and rivers. There is officially about 30 miles of trails in the valley, but if you factor in the plethora of spur trails, there is no telling how many miles of trail there are to explore!
While the scope of the trail system can be daunting, if you buy a good map (see above) and stick to the main paths, the network design can transform Panthertown into a great beginner’s backpacking destination. Since you are never more than a few miles from your car, the commitment is very minimal. You can do a multi-day backpacking expedition, see a significant amount of the area, and still end up back at your car where you started. Or, if you’d rather, you can just do a quick overnight and only cover a few miles. As a result, the logistics of hiking in Panthertown are much simpler than doing an epic point-to-point hike on the Appalachian Trail. There’s no need to worry about reaching your destination in a set amount of time to meet your shuttle, removing all of the headache and letting the submersive experience of backpacking in the wilderness take over.
If you are looking for a great East Coast destination for your next backpacking trip, be sure to put the Yosemite of the East on your short list!