Just outside of Cashiers, NC, in Sapphire, there is a place called Panthertown Valley. There is an east side, by Cold Mountain, which we will have to visit another time, and the west side, near Blackrock Mountain. We spent the night in the west side parking area in our van. We found this little gem of a quiet sleep spot on http://www.freecampsites.net. This area is known also as Salt Rock Gap.
We waited for the rain to stop til around noon, then took a picture of the map on the board (this was extremely helpful in our trek), and headed out on our hike. We started out on Panthertown Valley trail #474. On your way in, you have to sign in and then back out at a box on a tree. This is to help the forest rangers and other hikers know who is still in the area.
We would list the trails we took as pretty moderate, even while wearing chacos and sketchers flip flops. Some might scoff at our choice in footwear, but we’ve been on enough hikes to be able to tell what our feet can handle. We did, however, have our trekking poles with us. You will have to cross several small creeks on these trails, some an ankle deep or better, so our choice in footwear was great. Be sure to wear something on your feet that will dry fast. There is thick groves on mountain laurel too, and some places we had to duck, but the trail itself is clear for the most part. The laurels we starting to bloom too, so it made for a pretty walk.
We did not take the Blackrock Spur, which leads to an overlook of Blackrock Mountain. (the NC mountain, not the GA one).The map we took a snap shot of at the beginning was very informative to us and helped us stay on the proper trail. There are a lot of side trails that lead to steep rock inclines, so stay on the marked trails unless you are a mountain goat. From #474, we got onto trail #490 to Wilderness Falls (instead of continuing on #474). We took a side trail to the top of Wilderness Falls. It was hinky and I would not do it again. It did give an awesome view of the rushing water flowing down the solid rock mountain face., but stay on the main trail to be safest (green blazes)
We continued to follow #490 until we reached the bottom of Wilderness Falls. We also spotted a few primitive campsites along the way. That’s a good note for coming back to do the other trails in that section.
We continued on #490 until we reached #449, Deep Gap, following it back to #474. (#474 is marked with Red Blazes).
We saw signed for Great Wall trail, but it was getting a little toward time to go eat and check on Sam, so we did not take the Great Wall trail on this trip. There is a big overlook and a camp shelter down that trail.Keeping on #474, it goes to beautiful Frolictown Falls. This is a nice place to sit for a backpacked lunch if you brought one, or a cool dip in the area beneath the falls. On our way back to the parking area, we happened across a grove a perfectly aligned trees. It was rumored that there used to be an abandoned Christmas tree farm in the area, and this fits the bill. Among these trees, is a nice open primitive campsite.
Then, we came to Salt Rock Gap. This was a great overlook, and despite the rain earlier in the day, we could see clearly over the gorge. Across from the Gap overlook is a nice rock slab where you can sit a spell and take in the sight.
It was a great hike, and we took our time, stayed on our path, and saw a lot of nature’s beauty. We highly recommend this place; just remember to stay on the trails that are marked, the map is your best buddy, and wear whatever shoes you think you will need for a damp, moderate hike. There were signs all around at the parking area about bear activity, but the only bear we saw was the one at Bogart’s restaurant in Sylva, where we stopped on our way back to the RV!(Just a little side note: if you like Bogart’s broccoli cheddar bite, the one is Sylva doesn’t have them, but the one in Waynesville does.)