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Panthertown backpack July 3, 2014

Posted by Jenny in camping, hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, Southern Appalachians.
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Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

Last weekend I went backpacking in Panthertown with my new friends Dana and Cathy. The plan was to meet Friday morning, camp two nights, and come out Sunday. We had no set itinerary—just the desire to wander about ethereal realms of granite plutons and splendid waterfalls. Plus, Dana had a really good tip about a beautiful place to camp, not far from the Cold Mountain Road entrance.

Panthertown is located south of Sylva NC and west of Brevard NC. It is considered to be partly in Nantahala National Forest and partly in Pisgah NF.

As it turned out, we got rained on pretty hard a few hours after we arrived. In some ways that was bad luck, but in one way it was nice—we got to see some of the waterfalls foaming and roaring from the heavy rainfall. I opted to leave Saturday morning because I had aggravated a chronic hip flexor problem two days earlier on a bushwhack up Cole Creek and it was really bothering me. Dana and Cathy opted to leave Saturday evening because everything was so wet and dirty by that point that it made sense to go home and dry off.

We started by going up the Mac’s Gap Trail to the Greenland Creek Trail and turning northwest to go along a pretty rough pathway to see a couple of falls. There were lots of roots and rocks and steep little climbs, but that’s what Panthertown is all about. First we came to Mac’s Falls.

It was jungly along the edge of the stream.

It was jungly along the edge of the stream.

Mac's Falls from downstream. Peaceful.

Mac’s Falls from downstream. Peaceful.

A little further along we came to Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

We headed back upstream and located the camping spot Dana had heard about. It was just perfect, carpeted with pine needles and right beside the amber waters of Greenland Creek. There was even a tiny beach area with very fine grains of sand.

The only problem was that at this point it was pouring—just as we were trying to set up our tents. I was in such a hurry to get my tent up that when I yanked it out of its stuff sack, the little bag with the tent pegs went flying into the brush and I didn’t even see it go. Then, when I couldn’t find the pegs, I figured I’d left them behind the last time I used the tent. Dana and Cathy had extras which they kindly loaned me. Dana spotted the little bag when they broke camp.

After we got things set up, the rain tapered off and we explored the three falls upstream from there. First was Greenland Creek Falls.

Beautiful the way the Panthertown falls are all fringed with luxuriant green.

Beautiful the way the Panthertown falls are all fringed with luxuriant green.

The water was churning and foaming from the rain. To me, it had a strangely industrial sound, as if subterranean machinery was busily at work. I remember saying to the others, “It sounds like a machine,” but I couldn’t quite explain what I meant.

The fogging on my lens got worse as I went along. Well, at least it gives you a feel for how damp things were.

Raging waters.

Raging waters.

Patterns of foam below Halfway Falls.

Patterns of foam below Halfway Falls.

This rhodo blossom wanted to be admired.

This rhodo blossom wanted to be admired.

We came to the uppermost of the falls, Carlton’s Falls.

Contrast between white foam and dark amber pool.

Contrast between white foam and dark amber pool.

I took a picture of Dana and Cathy. Unfortunately, the fogged-up lens turned Cathy into a ghost.

Dana and Cathy with fog on the lens.

Dana and Cathy with fog on the lens.

We returned to camp and had supper. Afterward, I wandered up and down Greenland Creek a short distance and gazed at the beautiful stream.

There is no other place quite like Panthertown.

Carlton's Falls.

Carlton’s Falls.



1. Kent Hackendy - July 3, 2014

Beautiful falls. There’s something very meditative about the sound of waterfalls. I can get lost in the sound of flowing water.

Jenny - July 3, 2014

It’s almost as if the sound of a waterfall is the aural equivalent of an ink blot—we can hear anything we want in it.

2. Brian Reed - July 3, 2014

Seems even more lush than the Smokies from your photos, if that is possible. Looks like good weather for Lester Prong!

Jenny - July 3, 2014

The understory is a lot like what you find in the Smokies. The trees are different, and the geology and chemistry of the water are different. The color of the water in Panthertown is just amazing. As far as Lester is concerned, I think it’s more sensible to wait for rainier weather…

3. norman medford - July 7, 2014

Hi Jenny- iust read your last comment on the LeConte site. I will follow you on yourt site, i enjoy reading about your bushwacking hikes. My son was asking me if it is legal to hike off trail? I don’t know? Have a good day!

Jenny - July 7, 2014

Yes, it is legal, and you can even get permits for camping off-trail (but you have to do that with the backcountry camping office). The Park Service would love for people not to bushwhack, but in reality all their search-and-rescue operations are for tourists who take the wrong turn on a trail or for people who do stupid things around waterfalls—not for experienced off-trail hikers. The Park Service maybe realizes that the folks who bushwhack are the best informed, know where they are going. It’s the folks who accidentally stray off the trails who are the problem, not the folks who set off deliberately with map, compass, and altimeter. The day the Park Service bans off-trail hiking, I don’t know what I’ll do (actually, I’ll just keep exploring—they can’t catch me). Read any of the great books of the early bushwhackers like Harvey Broome’s “Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies,” and you’ll realize people have been exploring off-trail since way before the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

4. Jenny - July 7, 2014

One more comment about the Park Service and off-trail hiking. Going off-trail in the Smokies is just too darn hard and uncomfortable for most people. Not too many crazy people can put up with crawling through the rhodo. So it’s not as if the Park Service has huge numbers of folks to deal with.

5. gary howell - July 14, 2014

pretty falls .. glad you found your camera .. hope your hip flexor is better.

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