Visitor’s Guide

Schoolhouse Falls 2020
Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley is one of dozens of waterfalls found in this treasured backcountry.

Thanks for visiting! 

Panthertown Valley is a treasured 6,311-acre public backcountry recreation area located on Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina, on the Continental Divide, straddled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Panthertown is located in the Canada township of Jackson County, bordering Transylvania County, near the mountain towns of Cashiers, Sapphire, and Lake Toxaway, not too far from Asheville, Brevard, Franklin, and Sylva.



The mission of Friends of Panthertown is to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve this outstanding natural resource while improving the quality and experience of recreational opportunities in Panthertown .

Are you a Friend?
Invest in the Panthertown Stewardship Fund to help conserve this special place.

Panthertown Valley is a wonderous place to explore, however there are a few things you should be aware of before visiting this undeveloped forest. We hope this list of suggestions and cautions will help to make your experience in Panthertown more enjoyable:

  • Your safety is your responsibility. Plan ahead and come prepared.
  • Hiking in Panthertown can be dangerous, especially for inexperienced hikers. Know before you go, plan ahead, and come prepared for a fun backcountry adventure.
  • This is a wild, rugged place with more than 30 miles of public non-motorized trails spread out over 6,311 acres deep within Nantahala National Forest. It’s easy to get lost. Stay on the trails, bring a good map and compass, and know how to use them.
  • Expect to hike several miles on uneven surfaces to reach the most popular destinations and points of interest in Panthertown, including waterfalls and overlooks.
  • We recommend you carry a first aid kit.
  • Bring plenty of water with you to drink, or a water filtration system to keep you hydrated. There are no water fountains, trash cans, vending machines, or restrooms here.
  • Cell phone service here can be spotty and unreliable throughout Panthertown.
  • Weather conditions and temperatures in the valley can vary greatly and change suddenly. You may want to bring protective layers of clothing and rain gear, just in case.
  • You may get hot, cold, wet, muddy, scratched up, and dirty just from hiking and exploring in Panthertown, so dress appropriately and wear proper footwear for your hike.
  • There are several deep stream crossings and rock hops in Panthertown where you may need to remove your boots to cross, and where avoiding getting wet may be difficult.
  • The hike out of the valley is mostly uphill, on uneven ground, and can be difficult. Make sure you save some energy (and bring enough water) for your walk back to the parking area. That’s all part of the Panthertown experience!


  • While beautiful to look at, waterfalls are dangerous. Enjoy the view from below.


  • Panthertown Valley is part of the Bonas Defeat-Panthertown Bear Sanctuary.
  • Panthertown hosts a diversity of wildlife, please do not feed the animals!
  • Common natural hazards to watch out for include venomous snakes and yellow jacket nests. Copperheads and rattle snakes are common in the valley. Avoid and leave alone.

Friends of Panthertown is a donor and volunteer supported 501(c)3 non-profit. Our Friends include volunteers who help us maintain 30 miles of backcountry trails, and donors and partners who support conservation projects in Panthertown.

Are you a Friend?
Invest in the Panthertown Stewardship Fund to help conserve this special place.


  • Remember, it’s easy to get lost here. We recommend you bring a good map and compass. Panthertown is a BIG place. There is no way to experience it all in a day.
  • For your safety, and to protect the ecology, we recommend you stay on the marked and maintained trails, and avoid short cuts through the woods.
  • Although you may hike anywhere in Panthertown, mountain bikes and horses should stay only on the trails designated for those uses.
  • Trailheads are marked with signs indicating one or more designation: “Hike”, “Bike“, and “Horse”. You may also travel on Forest Service roads. 
  • When visiting Panthertown, please be respectful of the land, the wildlife, and other visitors. Stay on the trails and yield to others passing. Trail etiquette applies.


  • All camping in Panthertown is dispersed and primitive. There are no designated campsites or amenities.
  • Forest Service rules limit dispersed camping to no more than 12 people per camp site, and not within 50 feet of water sources.
  • Please use existing fire rings and never leave a fire unattended. Make sure to properly extinguish and drown your fire and coals before leaving your camp site. Only You Can Prevent Wildfires!
  • If making a fire, only gather dead wood that is already on the ground. Do not cut any standing trees in the forest, even if they look dead. Do not bring wood from elsewhere. This could introduce invasive species and pests.
  • Practice Leave No Trace and pack your trash out with you. Bury your human waste in a cat hole dug 6″ to 8″ deep, and at least 200 feet away from any trails and water.

With more than 30 miles of maintained primitive trails in Panthertown Valley there is something for everyone to explore. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, anglers, climbers, scouts, and others, all enjoy visiting.

Are you a Friend?
Invest in the Panthertown Stewardship Fund to help conserve this special place.


  • There is limited parking at three entrances (Salt Rock Gap, Cold Mountain Gap, and Flat Creek), low-clearance gravel Forest Service roads, and heavy use on weekends. Drive slowly and use caution to not damage your vehicle or the road.
  • Equestrians please note: there are no horse trails at the Cold Mountain Gap trailheads. Horse trailer parking is prohibited there. The Salt Rock Gap entrance offers limited parking and can be difficult to turn a horse trailer around. If you use this entrance, we suggest that you park and unload your trailer on the pavement at the end of state maintained Breedlove Road.
  • The Flat Creek parking area off Rock Bridge Road north of Lake Toxaway on NC 281 is the largest and offers a wide horse trailer turn around with easy access to the Panthertown Valley Trail System.


  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics when visiting.

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Reprinted with permission ©Leave No Trace


Help us protect this special place.

Donate today to help us protect and maintain Panthertown Valley.