Panther Creek Trail

Black Bear

Cohutta Wilderness

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

There are several scenic features in the Cohutta Wilderness and at the top of them is Panther Creek Falls located on Panther Creek Trail. The falls are at their most spectacular in the winter and early spring after heavy sustained rains. The pictures you see on this page were after 2 days of heavy sustained winter rains.

Panther Creek Trail is a 3.5-mile east-west running interior trail and may be reached on its eastern (high elevation) terminus via East Cowpen Trail or its western(low elevation) terminus via the Conasauga River Trail. The trail gains 1,830 feet of elevation going east and loses it from the west.

The falls are located approximately midpoint on the trail, around 1.6 to 1.9 miles, depending on which direction you hike in.

The hike described here is a 13.0 mile out and back day hike which starts at the northern (low elevation) terminus of East Cowpen Trail which is located at the end of FS51. This geographic starting point also houses the Rice Camp Trailhead and the northeastern(low elevation) Hickory Creek Trailhead.

This is the preferred route in the winter if you want to avoid river crossings. The shortest hiking route to Panther Creek Falls (not necessarily driving) is from the East Cowpen southern trailhead located at Three Forks Mountain but is inaccessible from January 1st to March 1st every year due to FS64 being closed at Potatopatch Mountain by the Forest Service.

East Cowpen Trail is Old Hwy 2 which was an east-west highway in this part of Georgia that originally followed a winding route through the Cohutta Mountains between Cisco and Blue Ridge, GA. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, coupled with landslides on one section of the route, State Road 2 was rerouted to travel concurrently with State Road 52 over Fort Mountain according to Wikipedia.

Up to 1987, it was semi-legal for motor vehicles to drive on the road even though the land was designated a federally protected Wilderness by Congress in 1975. There was a dispute between the State of Georgia and the Federal Government over whether or not recreational off-road vehicles would be allowed according to local sources in Muray County.

East Cowpen Trail is known for its great winter views atop Cohutta Mountain. On a clear sunny winter day, there are magnificent vistas of Big Frog Mountain covered in snow. Only in the Cohutta Wilderness can a day hiker go from a Winter Wonderland in the Mountains down to spectacular rivers and waterfalls in the snowless valleys.

Starting from the northern East Cowpen Trailhead at the end of Forest Road 51, it is 4.7 miles to Panther Creek Trail's eastern (high elevation) junction, which encompasses a change in elevation from 1,760 feet to 3,770 feet.

The majority of this change in elevation occurs the first 2.7 miles of the hike rated moderate. After passing the Hickory Ridge Trail junction at mile 2.7 the change in elevation (600 feet) for the next 2 miles to Panther Creek Trail is gradual.

After passing Hickory Ridge Trail junction at mile 2.7 the trail continues on a horseshoe-shaped switchback around Buckeye Mountain on its right. The trail continues to climb until it reaches the top of Cohutta Mountain. Once on top of the ridge the trail resembles a roadbed again being flat and wide in the winter. It continues this way to the Panther Creek Trail junction on the right which literally looks like a four-way intersection in the winter with a nice campsite on the left.

There are 2 ways to reach the falls from above and one way below. The trail just described brings you in from above and is the only way from above in the winter. Outside of January 1st to March 1st the shortest route to the falls is to start at the Three Forks Mountain trailhead and hike the East Cowpen trail to the eastern terminus of the Panther Creek trail which is 2.4 miles.

Panther Creek Trail from its eastern terminus is relatively flat the first .5 miles before it begins a gradual and increasing decline of approximately 800 feet over the next 1.4 miles until the trail reaches Panther Creek Falls coming in from above.

Near the falls the trail enters a pocket of old-growth forest with large Eastern hemlocks. Shortly afterward, there are several excellent campsites located near this cool big boulder field hiding the falls until you're on top of them. Paradise in the woods. At least for a short time. The pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy sunset rock!

Probably the most popular route starts at the western (high elevation) Hickory Creek Trailhead which is accessed by FS630. From this trailhead, it is 5.1 miles to Panther Creek Falls.

Hickory Creek Trail loses elevation gradually the first 1.9 miles on a wide beaten down old roadbed. At this point, the Conasauga River Trail merges (this is the only trail merger in the Wilderness) with Hickory Creek Trail and shares the same treadway for the next 1.3 miles arriving at the four-way intersection of Tearbritches, Hickory Creek, and the Conasauga River Trail at Bray Field.

To continue on to Panther Creek Trail and the falls walk south and upstream on the Conasauga River Trail. The trail takes an unexpected short but steep spur uphill and back down to the river. After walking approximately .4 miles from Bray Field you should see the Panther Creek Trail junction sign on the left side of the Conasauga River Trail.

From the junction, it is possible to see where Panther Creek flows into the Conasauga River slightly to the right. It's a scenic view. Panther Creek Trail crosses the Conasauga River here from west to east to the left side of Panther Creek and continues to follow the creek upstream for 1 mile crossing it 5 times in the first half-mile.

The trail begins gaining elevation around mile 0.75 and crosses Panther Creek for the last time at mile 1 at the bottom of Panther Creek Falls. To continue to the top of the falls the trail ascends steeply for approximately a 1/2 mile up the left side of Panther Creek detouring slightly left near the top before it switchbacks toward the falls. It is common to improvise here due to deadfall over portions of the trail.

The top of the falls is called Sunset Bluff for the obvious reason. It also provides a rare unobstructed scenic view of the wilderness.

Panther Creek Trail continues east for approximately 1.9 miles to its junction with East Cowpen Trail on top of Cohutta Mountain.

Panther Creek Falls

View from atop Panther Creek Falls

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Panther Creek Bluff

View from Panther Creek Bluff

"A wilderness...is hereby recognized as an area where the
earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,
where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

- Wilderness Act of 1964

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Map of Panther Creek Trail

Map of Panther Creek Trail and the Falls

Directions

If you want to come in from above the falls which is beautiful during high water then you must take East Cowpen Trail to Panther Creek Trail Junction. The shortest distance to Panther Creek Falls is to proceed from the Three Forks Mountain Trailhead and hike south to north arriving at the eastern trailhead for Panther Creek at mile 2.4. From there it is 1.9 miles to the top of the falls. This is the shortest route at 4.3 miles one way and 8.6 miles on an out and back. Access to Three Forks Mountain Trailhead is closed from January 1st to March 31st every year due to winter weather by the Forest Service.

Three Forks Mountain Trailhead:

Eton, GA Access: From Eton, GA, a one red-light town, take a right from Hwy 411 onto CCC road at the red light. Go 6.0 miles until the road turns into gravel and Forest Service Road 18. Once on gravel it is approximately 10 miles until Potatopatch Mountain. Drive 1.1 miles and the trailhead for Emery Creek is on the left at Holly Creek. Continue 2.9 miles until the three way intersection with FS68. Take FS68 and begin going uphill.

Stay on FS68 for approximately 6.0 miles until the T - intersection of FS68/FS64 at Potatopatch Mountain and take a right. Drive 4.3 miles to the trailhead on your left.

Total distance from Hwy 411: 20.3 miles - Paved: 6.0 miles - Gravel: 14.3 miles. Have Fun!

The second option and only option in the winter is to start at the northern East Cowpen Trailhead located at the end of Forest Road 51. Hiking this way it is 4.7 miles to the Panther Creek Trail junction passing the Hickory Ridge Trail junction along the way at mile 2.7 on the left. After arriving at the Panther Creek Trailhead on top of Cohutta Mountain at mile 4.7 take a right and the falls are 1.9 miles away for a total of 6.6 miles one way and 13.2 miles on an out and back.

FS51 Trailhead: From Eton, GA (One Red-Light Town) go North on Hwy 411 8.8 miles until GA2. Take a right onto Old Hwy GA2. The road is paved for the first 1.8 miles. At mile 3.1 you will come to the West Cowpen Check Station on your left and the first road intersection. FS17 goes right. Continue straight on FS16.

At mile 7.5 there is another intersection. If you continue left then the road will take you to Iron Mountain, Jack's River, Beech Bottom Trailheads. Instead you will turn right on FS51. There is a road sign pointing you in the right direction which is shown immediately below in the image gallery.

After taking a right on FS51 be careful if you are driving a small car at mile 9.6 and mile 9.9. Two challenging potholes. Go far right at the first pothole and then far left at the second pothole. The two creeks are easy to drive through even with a small vehicle.

After taking a right on FS51 and driving 2.6 miles you will see Horseshoe Bend Trailhead on your left, it does not have a road sign.

Continue another 2.1 mile to the end of FS51 where you will find the Rice Camp Trailhead, the northern terminus of East Cowpen Trail, and the northeastern terminus of Hickory Creek Trail.

Total Distance from Hwy 411: 12.2 miles Have Fun!

To approach Panther Creek Falls from below you need to come in at the Forest Road 630 Hickory Creek Trailhead, which takes you to the eastern(high elevation ) Hickory Creek Trailhead located at the end of Forest Road 630.

From this trailhead Hickory Creek Trail goes 1.9 miles before intersecting with the Conasauga River Trail and continuing south upstream for the next 1.3 miles to the four way trail intersection at Bray Field.

At Bray field where the Tearbritches, Conasauga River, and Hickory Creek Trail come together the trail will continue on the Conasauga River Trail south approximately .4 miles briefly going up a steep spur and then down where the Panther Creek Trail junction is on the left edge.

Hickory Creek FS630 Trailhead:

Crandall, GA Access: From Eton, GA go north on Hwy 411 until the 4 lane highway converges into a two lane. 3.0 miles from Eton, GA will be Grassy Street represented by the usual small green street sign. Turn right onto Grassy Street.

Drive straight over the railroad tracks and turn right onto Crandall-Ellijay Road. Drive .1 mile and then take an immediate left onto FS 630 (Mill Creek Road). Continue straight eventually driving on gravel for 8.6 miles to the FS630-FS17 intersection. Continue on FS630 through intersection 0.3 miles to trailhead.

Total Distance from Hwy 411: 9.4 miles. Have Fun!

East Cowpen FS51 Trailhead
Distance: 13.2 miles
Type: Out and Back
Hiking to Panther Creek Falls: Moderate
Hiking Back Out: Moderate to Strenuous
East Cowpen FS51 Trailhead: 1,760 feet
Hickory Ridge Trail Junction: 3,150 feet
East Cowpen / Panther Creek Trail Junction: 3,766 feet
Panther Creek Falls 2,805 feet
Trail Junctions: Hickory Ridge, Panther Creek
Scenery(1-10 ): 10
Features: Winter vista views, Panther Creek Falls, Sunset Rock
Hickory Creek FS630 Trailhead
Distance: 10.4 miles
Type: Out and Back
Hiking to Panther Creek Falls: Easy to Strenuous
Hiking Back Out: Easy
Hickory Creek FS630 Trailhead: 2,300 feet
Panther Creek Trail/Conasauga River Junction: 1,940 feet
Panther Creek Falls 2,805 feet
Trail Junctions: Conasauga River, Tearbritches, Panther Creek
Scenery(1-10): 10
Features: Winter Vista Views, Panther Creek Falls, Sunset Rock
East Cowpen Three Forks Mountain Trailhead
Distance: 8.6 miles
Type: Out and Back
Hiking to Panther Creek Falls: Easy
Hiking Back Out: Moderate to Strenuous
Three Forks Mountain Trailhead: 3,500 feet
Panther Creek Trail/East Cowpen Junction: 3,766 feet
Panther Creek Falls 2,805 feet
Trail Junctions: Rough Ridge, Panther Creek
Scenery(1-10): 10
Features: Winter Vista Views, Panther Creek Falls, Sunset Rock

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