Hikes n' Climbs Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)

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Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)

Hike/Site Details

Hike Type
Trail Type
Skill Level
Moderate to Difficult
4-6 hours
Panther creek road, veering left from Yonah Dam, Up the dirt road and at the creek ford near the power line cut. You will notice a steel bridge just after the parking area, trail is immediately 20 feet after the bridge, at the 2 o'clock position.
Trailhead Elevation
Top Elevation



Geographic Location



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No list of north Georgia hiking would be complete without Panther Creek Trail at the top of the list.  Personally there are relatively two sites that I have personally experienced in Georgia that, have both extraordinary beauty, and have that feeling that you are no longer hiking in Georgia.  Those two are the Raven Cliff wilderness and Panther Creek as a whole.  While this review will cover the second, and less traveled section of Panther Creek, the first section is not to be missed despite it's popularity...

The first section of the 10.8 mile panther creek trail terminates at 5.39 miles at Panther falls and is the highlight of the entire hike.  This first section, covered in another review, is a popular destination for the slightly more adept hiker, and usually, their dogs.  Despite the popularity, it is a must-do as a result of it's unique beauty.  This review covers the second section from the falls to Panther Creek road, near Yonah Dam.  

My start point was at this southeast end, and is actually fairly easy to sort out if you aren't in too much of a hurry, which wasn't my case on this day.  After the parking area, which is painfully obvious, as the road ends  literally in Panther Creek, with a gate blocking further progress.  There is a bridge that crosses the creek, clearly built for hiking purposes.  

My mistake, was to take older directions from a North Georgia hiking book, which implied you should ford the creek, and park on the other side.  As a result of this, I missed the head of the trail, forded the creek and proceeded down a road through a field, to a second creek crossing, which on this day provided enough difficulty in crossing due to its depth.  Not wanting to remove my shoes, I attempted jumping rocks, only to splashdown in the creek, getting completely soaked.  

Not finding the trail, I was rather frustrated thinking I might now find the trail and might need to return home.  Luckily though, the trail is a bit more obvious coming back towards the bridge.

Note that the trailhead is at the 2 o'clock position immediately as you step off the bridge, and at least to me, was easily overlooked. 

This trail is not relatively traveled often and is a bit sketchy or nonexistent in places.  Look for tamped down leaves as an indicator.  

Headed off, looking for adventure, I left on this 5.5 miler, with a minimum of supplies, and expecting a relatively pleasant evening, weatherwise, I departed with fire starters, granola bars, a light, water, and a multi-tool, secretly, hoping I might have to "rough it".  

The trail traces backwards initially against the southwest side of panther creek for a short while, passing rapids and high canyon walls, which represents the most scenic parts of the trail, at least until you get to the falls.  The banks are rather steep in places, exceeding several hundred feet of high angle slope, and completely vertical in places.  This gives a rather un-Georgia feeling which makes it so unique.  

Departing the creek to the west, the trail becomes sketchy as it passes on top of several ridges, where several trails seem to coincide.  This feels like more like a wildness hike at this point and trails really amount to "places where other people have wandered before".  At this point it was getting pretty dark, and I honestly started to question what I was doing as I was just wandering about the mountaintops, without really any sort of trail or direction, as the light faded.

Expecting, at worst, 40 degree temperatures, and with the goal of Panther Creek falls nowhere to be found,  short of dropping into the valley and backtracking the creek, trail or terrain be damned.  Now I'll say here, that I largely hike without a GPS.  Part of it is that I somewhat view GPS as a cheater tool.  Oh, it's very cool and nice to have, and probably essential in some cases, but there is something about tackling the wilderness without it that, excites me.  Navigating only by terrain, stars or water features makes it really feel like you're doing something "big nuts".  Largely, anywhere relatively popular you end up going in the southeast U.S. has a well-trodden trail to follow, making GPS largely unnecessary, knowing that you will end up somewhere where people reside, within a reasonable 10-20 mile distance.

Tonight, aimlessly wandering amongst mountain tops, filled me with a bit of dread and excitement, as I considered making shelter out of the abundant dry leaf matter scattered about the hills on this January insect-free evening.  Ideas of stacking sticks in a tee-pee fashion, covering it with leaves, and filling its base with a makeshift leaf mattress, were rolling through my head.  Figuring it was more an excuse to pretend I was Les Stroud from Survivorman, for an evening, than necessity, and comforted by the fact that I at least had supplies for the night and a quasi-plan, I pressed on toward the goal.  

I stumbled on something of a trail, noticing sticks laid across the trail, indicating to me that some other misguided person left these as an indicator that I was going in the wrong direction, pushed forward to see where it would lead.  Alas, I had stumbled onto a gravel road.  

Now, I had heard rumors in the past of a road that would take you within close access to the falls.  Could this be it? For future reference, this was Yonah Camp road and provides easy access to the falls if lugging your gear for the whole hike isn't desired.  Unsure of how far I had traveled or how close I could be to the end of 5.5 miles,  I back-tracked the trail back towards the valley, and could hear the distant rush of water.  The valley steepened as I scampered through rhododendron and basically slid down a muddy 60 degree slope, which, I hoped wouldn't steepen even more.  The  terrain began to look more and more like that of what surrounded Panther Falls.  

Hearing the heavy rush of a large waterfall, I was relieved and maybe even disappointed that I had found it.  In the fading light, I could barely make out the powerful and majestic waterfall, large and imposing, 100's of feet wide, and as impressive as any southern waterfall, as I stood at the edge of the large pool with a sense of accomplishment.  

The falls really are a bit different.  Sure there are your tall southern falls, Amicalola, Fall Creek Falls, etc...  But the width of this one, with it's gradual 100 foot drop, really is impressive on the senses.

Having basically slid down into the valley, I backtracked the creek, knowing it would eventually take me back to Yonah Dam, faint traces of maintained trail are apparent.  The cut wooden pegs, occasional steel barrier keeping you from slipping and plummeting down the canyon walls, as I traversed its scarcity in the foggy dark of night, the impression of being in a cave was only compounded as bats squeaked and flew into the beam of my headlight.  

Eventually the trail cuts back north back up onto the ridge, and curiously I found myself on a different trail than how I had entered.  

In the darkness, navigating by the rise in terrain, the audible strength of the streams as they rushed down the valleys orients you as to where the main Panther creek would be.  Eventually, I found myself in familiar territory as my Merrell hikers began to blister and cut into my heel.  

Seeing that odd termite ridden tree, or that other knotted tree gave me confidence I was in the right place.  Little by little the trail falls back to the creek to the slippery and sketchy creek trail.  In short order the bridge and the reflectors on the Jeep appear and we have made it.  

It's an extraordinary hike and very much worth it.  While campsites are really nonexistent, suitable places to camp are very abundant and isolated from really any kind of authority.  Find a place and setup.  This hike is a must do and shouldn't be missed.  I'm looking forward to taking some folks back over here.


Image Gallery

Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)
Panther Creek Trail (Section 2)


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Editor reviews

Panther Creek Trail (Section 2) 2012-02-17 23:08:13 Shane Lewis
Overall rating 
Trail Conditions 
Camp Sites 
Water Availability 
Big Nuts Tilt 
Reviewed by Shane Lewis    February 17, 2012
Last updated: February 18, 2012
#1 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Panther Creek (Section 2)

One of the must do hikes in Georgia?


Good Points
Nearly a wilderness hike, incredibly beautiful traversing canyons and mountain tops.
Bad Points
Trail is almost nonexistent at times, and very difficult to stick to at night... In a pinch follow the river out.
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