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Although big cats no longer prowl the 6,295-acre swath of the Nantahala National Forest dubbed Panthertown Valley, it’s still easy to imagine the namesake predators roaming the sylvan trails. One of the most stunning and ruggedly wild tracts of the massive national forest is Panthertown Valley—a place that has been referred to as the Yosemite of the East and one that is home to an unimaginably varied backcountry loaded with craggy granite cliffs, plunging ravines, soaring 4,000-foot peaks, and waterfalls spilling into private plunge pools. The recreation area is open to hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, and horseback riding—and despite increase popularity in recent years, Panthertown’s rugged trails are still steeped in solitude.
Filled with sylvan streams winding through vast swathes of contiguous wilderness and crowned by the cloud-swaddled peaks of the southern Appalachians, Jackson County, North Carolina, is awash with natural wonders. Beyond the stunning backdrop, the mountain-nestled county is also peppered with inviting towns loaded with bountiful farmers markets, inventive craft breweries, farm-to-fork eateries, and boutiques showcasing locally produced artisanal crafts. Adventures are abundant in Jackson County, but here’s a shortlist of recommendations for an idyllic weekend escape.