Visitor’s Guide

Schoolhouse Falls 2020
Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley is one of dozens of waterfalls found in this treasured backcountry.
The mission of Friends of Panthertown is to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve Panthertown as a backcountry natural resource and enable sustainable recreation..




Things To Know – Before You Go

Panthertown Valley is a treasured 6,311-acre public backcountry area and bear sanctuary 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 a remarkable place to explore, however there are a few things you should be aware of before visiting. We hope this guidance will be helpful with your experience.

Panthertown is located on the ancestral lands of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), and possibly other tribes. 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.

  • #1 Your safety is your responsibility. Visit with caution.
    Panthertown can be dangerous, especially for inexperienced visitors. Panthertown is an undeveloped backcountry wilderness. Hazards exist. In an emergency dial 9-1-1.
  • #2 Panthertown is a wild and remote backcountry area.
    Panthertown is unforgiving U.S. Forest Service backcountry surrounded by thousands of acres of wild forest. It is NOT a National Park (visit GSMNP or BRP) or State Park (visit Gorges or DuPont) which can offer some frontcountry experiences and amenities.

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

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
    Know before you go, plan ahead, and come prepared for a fun backcountry adventure. Current info is available on the Friends of Panthertown website. We recommend you bring a good map and compass, and know how to use them.

    Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use. Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of 4-6. Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
    For your safety, and to protect the ecology, we recommend you stay on the marked and maintained trails, walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy, and avoid short cuts through the woods.

    Hikers enjoy access to a robust trail system maintained by Friends of Panthertown. Mountain bikes and horses should only travel on trails designated for those uses.

    Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from streams and bodies of water. Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary. Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites. Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
    Pack it in, pack it out. There are no trash cans, restrooms, or attendants here to clean up after you. Keep a clean kitchen to avoid bear visits. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.

    Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

    To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
  • Leave what you find.
    Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Nature in Panthertown is a spectacular resource for all to enjoy. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches. And please, for the love of everything that lives under them and rely on their protection, don’t move or stack rocks. It‘s not cool.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
    Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light. Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes. Dial 9-1-1 to report wildfires or arson.
  • Respect wildlife.
    Panthertown hosts a diversity of wildlife and is a bear sanctuary. American black bears live here and are protected here. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

    Never feed animals or leave behind scraps of food (including fruit and their peels). Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Protect wildlife and your food by storing your rations and trash securely. Carry out and properly dispose of your food scraps and other trash.

    Control pets at all times, or leave them at home. Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

    Watch your step and be aware that snakes (including venomous copperheads and rattle snakes) are common in Panthertown. Avoid and leave alone. Do not capture or kill. If spotted, please report timber rattle snakes to USFS. Also, watch out for yellow jacket nests.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.
    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. Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail. Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock. Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors. Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises
    Parking and access to Panthertown is limited.
    Limited parking is available at three entrances (Salt Rock Gap, Cold Mountain Gap, and Flat Creek), access is via heavily used gravel Forest Service roads (with especially heavy use on weekends). Drive slowly and use caution to not damage your vehicle or road.
    No motorized vehicles within Panthertown Valley.
    You can’t drive beyond the parking areas and you won’t find cars in the valley. Expect to hike several miles round-trip on uneven mixed surfaces to reach most popular destinations and points of interest, including campsites, waterfalls, and overlooks.
    Friends of Panthertown protects and maintains the trails here.
    There are 30 miles of backcountry hiking trails to explore including more than 20 miles of mountain bike and horse trails. Each trail offers different features and challenges.
    Cell service in Panthertown is limited. “Can you hear me now?”
    Cellular telephone service can be spotty and unreliable here. Have a backup plan. Bring a whistle. In case of an emergency try dialing 9-1-1 even if you have zero signal bars.
    Stay hydrated.
    Don’t forget to bring drinking water. Carry plenty of water with you, or bring a water filtration system to help keep you hydrated. There are no water fountains, filling stations, or restrooms here.
    It’s easy to get lost.
    Panthertown Valley is a wild, rugged place with more than 30 miles of public non-motorized trails spread out across 6,311 acres deep within Nantahala National Forest. Stay on the trails, bring a good map and compass, and know how to use them.
    It’s easy to get hurt.
    Use the trails with caution and at your own risk. We recommend you carry a first aid kit.
    You may get wet.
    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. You may want to bring your swim suit and a towel to experience some of the areas’ best swimming holes and waterfalls. Lots of opportunities to get wet in Panthertown.
    You may get dirty.
    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. As much as you may love those flip-flops, they won’t last long in Panthertown.
    Weather conditions can change.
    Weather conditions and temperatures in the valley can vary greatly and change suddenly. You may want to bring rain gear and protective layers of clothing, just in case.
    Waterfalls are beautiful and dangerous.
    While beautiful to look at, waterfalls are dangerous. Waterfalls can pose a serious risk of injury or death, especially when approached from above. Enjoy the view from below.
    Save some energy for the hike out of the valley.
    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!
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.


  • 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.

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.
Friends of Panthertown Image Copyright 2021

Help us protect this special place.

Donate today to help us protect and maintain Panthertown Valley.


The mission of Friends of Panthertown is to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve Panthertown as a backcountry natural resource and enable sustainable recreation.

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