Last year, we visited the Salt Rock Gap side of Panthertown to see Wilderness Falls, This year, we visited the “Yosemite of the East” again, but on the Cold Mountain Gap side. We wanted to hike to Schoolhouse Falls and then put our hammocks up for the night. (Last year we had the van that we stayed in). We ended up not staying overnight, but we’ll get to that.
We created a video of our hike to Schoolhouse Falls and one for our next day adventure to High Falls, both of which you can see on our YouTube channel (Southeastern RV Living). I will put a link to the videos here at the bottom of this blog. The hike in to Schoolhouse Falls was not too bad. Always be sure that you follow the designated trails when you are going to Panthertown. There are a lot of side trails that are either water run offs, animals trails, or side trails that the forest service has created to get other places in the valley. The actual trails are marked with brown stakes and they are numbered and have colored blazes. Be sure to check out the map at the beginning of the trailhead before you get started so you can plan your best route for all you want to see.
We started out on trail 474 (red blazes) and turned onto 485 (green blazes) to get to Schoolhouse Falls. Along the way, we saw several campsites that looked like a great places to spend the night. Some were at the trailhead, and some were right next to the waterfall. It’s roughly about 1.25 miles to the waterfall, so if you wanted to hike your overnight stuff in, just remember the hike back out is the same amount of miles, only it’s going uphill. It was in the 90s the day we went and even though we dangled our feet in the cool (great temp, not too cold) water at the falls, it was extremely hot and humid hiking back out. We elected not to spend the night after hiking out because we became sticky and we had seen signs of bear activity. We also saw “stupid” people activity. What I mean by that is it there are signs posted and all over the internet when you research it, that says do not feed the bears, and keep your food in your vehicle or in a bear proof container. First, we saw where a bear had torn into someone’s food bag that had not been properly stored and second, we saw where someone had thrown out watermelon rinds. Due to these signs, one being close to where we had wanted to camp, we decided it was probably a good idea to skip on it. It turned out to be a good idea anyway, because it rained heavily that night.
Schoolhouse Falls is a wide, shallow falls that you can walk behind as long as it hasn’t been raining to make to rocks too slick. It has several flat rocks for sitting on and having a snack or just enjoying the water. There were people local to the area who were swimming there that day as well. We would certainly go back and camp there later on when the weather is cooler and less people are about. We recommend Panthertown highly for anyone who likes hikes in nature, seeing waterfalls and granite cliffs, valley and mountain views, as well as backcountry camping. You can stay at the trailhead parking areas if you are not brave enough to venture too far into the woods to sleep. Best of all, the only money you need is for the gas to get there. Another good thing about not spending the night, was we discovered a hidden gem of nature on our way back to camp. I was feeling down about asking to go back to the camper within the first few minutes of us leaving, but then we stopped at a public lake access area, and everything changed.
The access area has something that Panthertown doesn’t have, vault toilets. On the sign here we saw that it was 1 of 4 “hidden gems” they called these lakes formed from the damming up of the Tuckaseegee River. We noticed the dam was directly across from the lake access. The water just seemed to disappear at a drop off, and we thought, hmmm, we wonder if there’s a waterfall there. Hubs really wanted to find out. The very next little pull off area had a couple of cars there, so we figured there must be a trail to somewhere. There are no signs, no names of the trail or waterfall, only a small white sign on the tree saying, “danger, do not climb the falls, people have died here”, you know, the basic sign for every waterfall. While I sat in the truck and recouped from the heat, hubby went exploring.
When he returned, photos on phone in hand, he was beaming. He said it was the coolest waterfall he had ever seen. After seeing his pictures, I would have to agree. He had to repel down steep embankments to get there, then use ropes to climb his way back out. So, even though this is a gorgeous waterfall, unless you are fit and sure footed, we would not recommend you try the hike. Plus, the forest service highly recommends that you don’t go as well. Obviously, people still do, even to go swimming, but they are either brave souls or have a death wish. Since there are no markers here, (maybe that’s a sign within itself), he was not sure what he was getting into, but once he got started, he saw evidence that others were there and decided it was worth checking out. You can see from the photos (hopefully) that the climbing was hinky, at best. But, it was a once in a lifetime thing to see, and we would have missed it if we had elected to stay overnight. In the trail photos, notice the creek crossing and the rope to assist in climbing back out.
After this wonderful gift of nature, with its’ colors, and facets, we had a renewed outlook on why we do what we do. To experience things in nature like this truly is a once in a lifetime thing. The public access was Wolf Creek, so we figured that must be the name of the falls, which it is known as to some, but after research, we discovered its’ more common name, and it sure fits it well, “Paradise Falls”.
After left this enchanting place, we saw this monument on the side of the road, just around a curve. What a sweet way for him to thank the aunt that raised him, and for them to place a plaque to the dr. later. Yet another thing we would have missed had our plans not changed. Shortly after this, as they say of a rain storm in the country, “the bottom fell out” (of the sky).
The following day, we continued with our plans, as the lake was the same distance from our campground as it would have been from Panthertown. We went to the highest elevated lake this side (east) of the Mississippi. At 3,494 feet, this lake was nice and warm for another hot day. Across the parking area from here (the Pines Recreation Area), there is a trail going to High Falls. The information online about it is a little jumbled, but it’s about 2 miles in to see the entire falls area. There is actually 2 falls here, High Falls (or Cullowee Falls) falling 150 feet, and Thurston Hatcher Falls, falling 30 feet. High Falls flows with the sheerest amount of volume of any falls in the area when they release the dam for kayaking. They had released it the Saturday before we arrived on Wednesday, so maybe it was flowing a little better than the “trickle” they say usually has. Or, it possibly could have been flowing better due to the torrential downpour from the night before. There is a video on our channel for seeing both these falls, and I will include the link at the end along with the one for Schoolhouse Falls. This trail is rather steep, so bring your good hiking shoes and trekking poles. There are several steps made from logs and stones going down to High Falls, so be sure to watch where you step. If you are not used to “climbing” trails, you may not want to attempt this one. But, please go see the lake (Lake Glenville). There is a nice sandy beach area and picnic tables. There are 3 waterfalls you can only see from on the lake if you rent a (or bring your own) boat. We may have to check those out later ourselves. The water felt great and we had a nice picnic dinner to round out our day.
Here is the link to our video on Schoolhouse Falls:
And here is the link for our video on High Falls:
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