Visitor’s Guide

Schoolhouse Falls 2020

Thanks for visiting! 

Panthertown Valley is a treasured 6,311-acre 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 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 Valley.

We are a donor and volunteer supported 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our volunteers maintain 30 miles of backcountry trails, and our donors and partners support conservation projects in Panthertown Valley with donations and grants.

Panthertown is a wonderful place to explore, however there are a few things you should be aware of before visiting for your first time. We hope this list of suggestions (and cautions) will make your experience in Panthertown Valley more enjoyable:

  • Your safety is your responsibility. Plan ahead and come prepared.
  • This is a wild, rugged place with more than 30 miles of public trails spread out over 6,311 acres deep in the Nantahala National Forest. It’s easy to get lost. We recommend you bring a good map and compass, and know how to use them.
  • Panthertown is NOT a National Park or State Park. It’s common to not see any other people when visiting. Cell phone service here can be spotty. Use the trails with caution and at your own risk.
  • Bring plenty of water to drink, or a filtration system to keep you hydrated. There are no water fountains, trash cans, or restrooms here. Please carry out your trash and practice Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics when visiting.
  • Hiking in the forest can be dangerous, especially for inexperienced hikers. Know before you go, plan ahead, and come prepared for a fun backcountry experience.
  • You may get hot, cold, wet, muddy, scratched up, and dirty just from hiking and exploring in Panthertown, so dress appropriately and in layers. Expect to hike several miles on uneven surfaces to reach the most popular points of interest, including waterfalls and overlooks.
  • The hike out of the valley is uphill and can be difficult. Some hiking experience is recommended. Make sure you save some energy and water for your walk back to the parking area. That’s all part of the Panthertown experience!
  • American black bears live here and are protected as 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.
  • Friends of Panthertown volunteers only maintain the official trail system in Panthertown. There are hundreds of miles of user created footpaths that crisscross the valley. For your safety, and to protect the ecology, we recommend you stay on the marked trails and avoid short cuts through the woods. Remember, it’s easy to get lost here, and we want you to enjoy your backcountry experience.


  • Dispersed camping is primitive and no amenities are provided. Forest Service rules limit camp sites to no more than 12 people, and not within 50 feet of water sources. No permits are required for non-commercial groups.
  • 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!


  • 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.