Panthertown is one of the most spectacular natural areas in the southeastern United States. Visitors can enjoy deep gorges and broad valleys, mountain bogs and granitic rock domes, tranquil creeks and plunging waterfalls. More than 35,000 visitors each year come for the cascading waters, trout streams, panoramic views, sheer granite cliffs, and backcountry experience. This is a wild, rugged place. It’s easy to get lost here.
Panthertown is located on the ancestral lands of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), and possibly other tribes.
Panthertown protects the headwaters of the east fork of the Tuckasegee River, and biologically diverse habitats for wildlife and rare plant species.
Panthertown is comprised of over 10,000 acres of protected public land on Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. The popular backcountry complex encompasses a bear sanctuary – Panthertown Valley and Bonas Defeat, plus Big Pisgah (located on Pisgah National Forest). Panthertown lies on the eastern continental divide within North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Panthertown Valley, often referred to as “the Yosemite of the East”, is a popular 6,311 acre backcountry recreation area within the complex with thirty miles of U.S. Forest Service officially designated trails on the Nantahala National Forest plus many miles of Forest Service roads, and unofficial shortcuts and footpaths located throughout the valley.
Because of its outstanding geologic formations, forests, streams and native plant life, Panthertown is designated as a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area natural heritage site and by The Wilderness Society as one of North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures. Thirty miles of backcountry trails are open year round and are maintained by Friends of Panthertown volunteers. Many of those trails allow for mountain biking and equestrian activities.
Forest Service Rules Apply in Panthertown:
Camping is permitted in Panthertown, but groups are limited to no more than 12 people per site. No commercial equestrian or mountain bike outfitter/guides are permitted.
Hikers are welcome to explore the many trails and footpaths in Panthertown. Forest Service recommends staying on the trails. Mountain bikers and equestrians are asked to please follow appropriate trail designations. All visitors should use trail etiquette and yield appropriately when passing other users.
Panthertown Valley is protected as part of the Panthertown-Bonas Defeat bear sanctuary. No bear hunting of any kind is permitted in Panthertown.
This 6,311 acre back-country area in the Nantahala National Forest offers visitors a wide variety of places to explore and has become a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, rock climbers, anglers, school groups, summer camps, scout troops, ornithologists, etc.
A network of trails and old logging roads lead to waterfalls, bogs, and spectacular overlooks of the valley and its cliff faces. Be aware that a number of visitors get lost in the area each year because trails are unmarked; therefore, visitors are advised to bring a map and compass.
Due to increased popularity in recent years, the trails and fragile ecosystem has sustained significant damage and many people have gotten lost because trails are not marked. Therefore, the Friends of Panthertown are working with the Forest Service to establish a more sustainable trail system for multiple users by marking trails, designating trails for appropriate recreational uses, developing a trail map, and educating users about appropriate recreational uses and Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics.
The most rugged gorges in the valley escaped logging and contain some old growth trees and there are many ecologically sensitive areas and rare communities of plants that thrive within the valley. Visitors can lessen their impact by staying on designated trails. Rare ferns, mosses, and liverworts that grow in the wet micro-climates around waterfalls are easily disturbed. For this reason, visitors are encouraged to view the falls from a distance.
Spring and Fall temperatures typically range from the 40’s-60’s. Summer temperatures range from the 50’s-80’s. Winter temperatures range in the 20’s-40’s.
Hiking is the primary activity of visitors to Panthertown. Hikers are encouraged to use a map and compass so as not to get lost. There are literally hundreds of miles of unmarked trails, footpaths, rock hops, and old logging roads that traverse Panthertown. Only the official Panthertown Trails System as designated by the U.S. Forest Service is maintained by Friends of Panthertown. This trail system consists of 30 miles of hiking and mixed-use designated trails. Guide services are required to have a permit with U.S. Forest Service. No mountain bikes or horses are allowed on hike-only designated trails.
Mountain bikers may ride on bike designated trails in Panthertown and on all U.S. Forest Service gated service roads throughout the National Forest. U.S. Forest Service rules prohibit ALL COMMERCIAL mountain bike outfitters and guides in Panthertown.
For more information about mountain biking opportunities in western North Carolina, contact Pisgah Area SORBA or Nantahala Area SORBA, both local chapters of The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), the largest nonprofit mountain biking organization in the Southeast.
Equestrians and their horses are allowed in Panthertown only on horse designated trails. No commercial operations are permitted. U.S. Forest Service rules prohibit ALL COMMERCIAL horseback riding and guided trips. No horse trailer parking is available at Cold Mountain Gap entrance.
Overnight backcountry camping is allowed in Panthertown. No permits are required. Groups are limited to no more than 12 people per site. No camping within 50 feet of streams or rivers in Panthertown Valley.
Fishing in Panthertown is managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission under the “Wild Trout Waters, catch and release, single hook, artificial lures only” classification and a valid NC fishing license is required.
We support the mission of our friends at Tuckaseigee Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the work of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River (WATR) to protect our precious river.
A Brief History of Panthertown:
Panthertown is part of the Roy Taylor National Forest within the Nantahala National Forest. Panthertown Valley has changed “ownership” many times throughout its history. The valley was logged in the 1920s and 1930s by the Moltz Lumber Company, and was then sold in the 1960s to Liberty Properties who had plans to convert the valley into a resort. The Blue Ridge Parkway also had plans for a route through the valley. When those plans fell through, Duke Power Company purchased the land in order to construct a large electrical transmission line spanning the valley’s width. In 1989, the North Carolina Chapter of the Nature Conservancy purchased all but Duke’s right-of-way for $8 million as an addition to Nantahala National Forest. Today Panthertown is managed by the U.S. Forest Service with funding and volunteers provided by Friends of Panthertown.
In 2009, working with Friends of Panthertown to gather public input, the U.S. Forest Service Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins signed a decision memo concerning the Panthertown Valley Trail Project. A trail system map was released and trail uses were designated for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Download USFS Panthertown Trail Project Decision Memo (3.3MB PDF).
Please remember to always practice the Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics when visiting Panthertown Valley and Nantahala National Forest. Pack it in, pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
For more information:
Nantahala National Forest
Nantahala Ranger District
90 Sloan Road
Franklin, NC 28734
Trail Sharing Etiquette:
“Protecting and maintaining Panthertown Valley”