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.
In a corner of the state inundated with undulating mountain chains and punctuated with soaring summits that include a generous number of 6,000-foot peaks, Yellow Mountain is far from western North Carolina’s loftiest summit at 5,127 feet in elevation. However, scaling this pinnacle of the Cowee Mountain chain involves one of the most punishing—and thoroughly rewarding—ascents in the southern Appalachians.
Jackson County, North Carolina, features a varied landscape is a veritable buffet for backpackers. Nestled at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, overlaid by the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam mountains, and loaded with strings of soaring 6,000-foot peaks (sixers) amid a massive expanses of forest—the trip options are almost endless. Jackson County’s diversity of trails provides something for backpacking enthusiasts of all stripes, from gear gurus to altitude-immune peak-seekers to cautious car campers striking out into the backcountry for the very first time. So load up the pack, seek out the starry-skied campsites of Jackson County, and spend some time exploring western North Carolina’s wildest spaces.
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.
Western North Carolina is a land of waterfalls. Countless cascades punctuate the waterways braiding the vast expanses of forest and lofty Appalachian peaks dominating the western corner of the state, lending the landscape an undeniably enchanting quality. Some of the falls are accessible only after delving into wild pockets of backcountry, while others are just steps from the state’s tree-lined byways. With the abundance of waterfalls, narrowing down a short list is a formidable of challenge, but these are among the most stunning cascades adorning the western part of the state.
Countless visitors flock to Jackson County, NC every year to experience the area’s unbeatable hiking trails. Considering the temperate mountain climate, natural beauty and diverse wildlife, it is not hard to see why it is such a popular destination for novice and advanced hikers alike.